It’s no surprise that babies in the womb are active, but did you know they actually exercise? Scientists from the University of Tokyo have recently discovered that fetuses begin to practice physical movements like hand-eye coordination as early as 16 weeks into a pregnancy. This new research has revealed just how these spontaneous exercises help prepare infants for life outside the womb and may even lead to insights regarding disability diagnosis.
For centuries, scientists have been mystified by fetal kicks, which can carry a force of more than 10 pounds. But thanks to motion capture technology, researchers were able to track joint movements and muscle activity in newborns and young infants. The results showed that patterns of muscle interaction emerged from random exploratory behavior which later helped them perform sequential movements.
Lead study author Hoshinori Kanazawa explained: “We were surprised that during spontaneous movement, infants’ movements ‘wandered’ and they pursued various sensorimotor interactions… We named this phenomenon ‘sensorimotor wandering’.”
This discovery could be key in understanding human movement development and promoting baby development overall, especially since it suggests motor skills don’t solely depend on repeating actions but also exploring different types of activities.
Kanazawa is now interested in studying the effects of sensorimotor wandering on behavior later in life, such as walking and reaching, as well as more complex cognitive functions. Ultimately, his research will inform how to best support babies’ healthy development and promote motor learning.
The findings from this new research are an exciting advancement in understanding exactly how babies learn and grow inside the womb, which may help us better understand the origins of human movement and could even lead to earlier detection of developmental disorders. As researchers continue to look into these types of movements and their impact on the brain, we can expect many more incredible discoveries about our earliest beginnings.