Babies respond to their mothers' touch even before they are born 5 years ago

Babies respond to their mothers' touch even before they are born

Keep rubbing that bump mamas-to-be! Ultrasound research has shown that babas recognise their mother’s touch while they are still in the womb.

Researchers from the University of Dundee's Psychology department have used 4D ultrasound videos to record how babies in utero react to different people touching their mum's tummy. Their heartwarming findings revealed that babies were most likely to reach out and touch the wall of the uterus when their mother caressed her bump. The response was nowhere near as strong when strangers or even the child’s father rubbed the mother’s stomach. This may explain why mothers often feel their babies moving about when they touch their stomach only for it to stop when a partner or friend tries to feel it. Babas were found to be particularly responsive to touch in the third trimester, suggesting this is a key period for the development of a child’s self-awareness.

Watch: Baby responds to its mother’s touch during ultrasound

Viola Marx, the study's lead author and a PhD student at the University, says the findings may help to shed light on the development of the mother-child bond:


"Mothers spontaneously and also intentionally touch their abdomen during pregnancy, often with the intention to communicate with the foetus. We showed that the foetuses responded to the mother’s touching of her abdomen. Any stimulation can be beneficial to the development of the foetus and the bonding of the mother, father and the foetus. Previous research has shown unborn babies also respond when their mother talks to them, helping them learn to recognise her voice after birth. Touch during pregnancy may also play a similar role. This familiarity between baby and mother is most likely due to the engagement of the mother with the developing foetus during pregnancy."

The study, published in the journal Infant Behaviour and Development, looked at how 28 infants responded to touch by different people including their mother, father and strangers. Surprisingly, the babies responded more to a stranger’s touch than their fathers but Dr Emese Nagy, the study's co-author, believes this may be due to differences in the way father’s touched their partner’s abdomen:

"It is possible that fathers worry about hurting the mother and child and touch too gently as a result, while the stranger tends to copy what the mother did herself. It may be that babies are able to recognise their own mother’s touch in a number of ways but we need to carry out more research to understand this better. Further work is also needed to understand the ‘meaning’ of the behaviour of the foetus in response to touch and its relationship to the bonding of the mother and her unborn child."