Fetal behavioral responses to the touch of the mother's abdomen: A Frame-by-frame analysis

Infant Behav Dev. 2017 May;47:83-91. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2017.03.005. Epub 2017 Mar 31.


The aim of the present study was to examine whether fetuses respond to the touching of the mother's abdomen, and if they do, whether they differentiate based on familiarity and the source of the touch, utilizing 3D real-time (4D) sonography. Behavioral responses of 28 fetuses (20th to 33rd week of gestation; N=15 in the 2nd and N=13 in the 3rd trimester) were frame-by-frame coded using a coding system comprising 20 codes and were analyzed in four conditions, during the touch of the (1) mother, (2) the father, (3) the stranger and in a (4) no-touch, control condition. Fetuses showed differential responses to the touch, in particular in the duration of their reaching out to touch the uterus wall in the four conditions, and self-touch, dependent on the gestational age of the fetus. Fetuses in the 3rd trimester touched the uterus wall significantly longer than fetuses in the 2nd trimester did, when the mother touched compared to the control condition. At the same time, fetuses in the 3rd trimester also touched themselves less during the mother's touch, compared when the stranger touched and also compared to the control condition. This differential response of the older fetuses might be due to the maturation of the central nervous system, and may indicate the emergence of a proprioceptive self-awareness by the 3rd trimester.

Keywords: Behavioral analysis; Fetal behavioral responses; Fetal development; Fetus; Prenatal; Tactile stimulation.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Fetus / physiology*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods
  • Mothers
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / methods*
  • Young Adult