Hidden world of foetus revealed: stretching, kicking and smiling

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Images showing the "hidden world" of unborn babies moving limbs, sucking fingers, hiccuping, crying and smiling, were published yesterday.

From the defined formation of a foetus just ten weeks after conception to a range of physical movements later in pregnancy, the pictures exceed the traditional ultrasound results in clarity and quality. They were made using a scanning technique pioneered at the Create Health Centre for Reproduction and Advanced Technology in London by a consultant obstetrician, Professor Stuart Campbell.

The scanning aims to shed light on the development of the foetus. "Conventional ultrasounds scans are excellent for measuring the foetus and assessing growth but convey very little information about the behaviour and emotions of the baby," said Professor Campbell, the former head of obstetrics at King's College Hospital.

The images released yesterday, which are to be published in a book entitled Watch Me Grow, show how unborn babies can move their limbs by stretching and kicking as early as 12 weeks after conception.

At 18 weeks foetuses were able to open their eyes, while from 26 weeks they displayed an array of moods and actions, including scratching, smiling, sucking and crying.

"Most doctors thought eyelids were fused until 26 weeks and smiling was thought to start six weeks after the birth," Professor Campbell said.

The images may reignite the debate surrounding the deadlines for abortion, which are permitted until the 24th week of pregnancy. Nuala Scarisbrick, of the charity LIFE, said: "From our point of view it helps educate people about how a child in the womb is a fully developed person."

The new scanning technique, which is not available on the NHS, costs £275 for a one-hour session.