Yawning: An Indicator of Healthy Fetal Development?

Health & Wellness on 11.23.12
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Photo: Nadja Reissland

You might not think much of the idea of fetuses yawning in the womb, but a recent study has found that yawning could be used to gauge whether a fetus is developing normally or not.

In a study published in PLoS, researchers at Durham University in the United Kingdom found a predicable pattern in the rate of yawning over the course of a fetus' development that suggested this seemingly innocuous action may be linked to early brain development in utero.

According to the scientists, yawning is not an indicator of sleeping, as previous studies showed a link between yawning and certain health conditions -- for example, where anemic or premature babies yawned more than their healthy counterparts.

According to LiveScience, the researchers were able to distinguish yawning from other open-mouthed behaviours through the use of 3D-ultrasound video:

To do so, the team the team took three-dimensional ultrasound videos of seven female and eight male fetuses once a month, as they grew from 24 weeks to 36 weeks gestation (roughly five months to eight months into pregnancy). The babies-to-be yawned about six times an hour at 24 weeks, but yawning waned over the 12-week period and had stopped by 36 weeks. A 3D-ultrasound video produces 4D-ultrasound images, as the fourth dimension is time.

Developmental psychologist and study co-author Nadja Reissland notes that these findings could mean that a fetus' yawns could be used in future health assessments:

In fact, yawning might be a trigger for brain maturation. Ultimately, it could be used in medical practice. If you see a fetus yawning a lot, there might be some problem.

More over at LiveScience.

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