The authors were quick to discourage pregnant mothers from shining bright lights into their bellies.
“A bright light would just brighten the whole womb and could be distressing for the fetus,” Reid noted. He and his team used low-level red light to minimize this problem, and because red wavelengths are known to penetrate through human tissue.
Reid also offered a constructive suggestion for expectant parents.
“This may sound unusual, but I would encourage expecting parents to read books to each other,” he said. “There is evidence that the fetus can detect the voice of their parents — not just their mother — but only if they have heard those voices frequently. This can help with bonding and could be beneficial, so I believe that reading books to each other is a good idea. This does not need to be books aimed at a baby. It could be anything.”
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The research team is now investigating whether or not fetuses of advanced gestation can discriminate between numbers and quantities.
“This is something that the newborn can do,” he said. “If the fetus can do this too, this tells us a lot about cognitive capacities.”
The researchers are also studying how fetuses see motion, since newborns exhibit a preference for people and things on the move. Reid suspects that if fetuses also show such an affinity, then “experiences that they have had engaging with their own body may have given rise to these preferences.”
Results from these studies could have multiple developmental and clinical applications in the future. For example, in terms of fetus health, clinicians might be able to do visual response assessments after medical procedures, such as fetal heart surgery, where oxygen deprivation might have occurred.
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