Memory may begin before birth

July 16, 2009 6:51:49 AM PDT
Dutch researchers say it may begin as early as 30 weeks, but by 34 weeks, fetuses are able to remember for as long as four weeks.

Researchers measured how the fetus responded to repeated stimulation using a fetal monitor to make a buzzing sound against the pregnant mother's belly.

After many exposures the fetus learned that the stimulus was safe and stopped reacting.

Researchers then tested the baby's memory by returning with the buzzer after some period of time. If it remembered the previous experience, then it shouldn't react.

At 30 weeks' gestation -- around the end of the seventh month of pregnancy -- babies remembered the stimulus for as long as ten minutes. But by a month later -- in the thirty-fourth week of development -- this memory lasted up to four weeks.

Dr. Juliann Paolicchi, of Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, says, "This research is significant because it establishes when the fetus cannot just hear, but begin to process and respond to , that information."

Dr. Peter Bernstein, of Montifiore Medical Center in New York adds, "This study is giving us insight into how fast the fetus's brain is developing while in the uterus."

Past studies have shown babies emerge from the womb remembering their motgher's voice.

And one study showed they can even remember mom's favorite soap opera, reacting favroably when the theme music is played.

This new study raises interesting questions about what kinds of memories babies might be forming in the womb.

Rahill Briggs, of Montefiore Med. Center, says " That little brain... pre-nataly, within the last trimester, is like a little recording device. And you get to decide what it's going to record."

More HealthCheck related links: