[Paleopsych] Stuff (NZ): Babies are not conscious in the womb

Nicholas Bannan n.j.c.bannan at reading.ac.uk
Thu Apr 14 09:09:39 UTC 2005

This view of foetal experience would not seem consisent with the several
exciting studies (Woodward; Shetler; Lecanuet; Lamont; etc.) that illustrate
that music first experienced in the womb is recognised by infants; and other
studies that suggest a similar early priming for language.  I am not sure
that the environment of slaughterhouses is the lynchpin of this issue.


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Subject: [Paleopsych] Stuff (NZ): Babies are not conscious in the womb

> Babies are not conscious in the womb
> http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,3194905a7144,00.html
> 22 February 2005
> Babies - both human and animal - react to touch, sound, and other
> external stimuli in the womb, but do not consciously experience them,
> says a group researching animal welfare.
> Professor David Mellor, of Massey University, said yesterday that the
> embryo and foetus are apparently never conscious, and actually spend
> much of their time anaethetised.
> "Consciousness first appears only after birth, associated with first
> exposure to air, gravity, hard surfaces, unlimited space and, usually,
> to cold ambient conditions," he said.
> Prof Mellor, director of the university's animal welfare science and
> bioethics centre, said he had made a fresh evaluation of consciousness
> in the womb - particularly in terms of sheep - after meatworkers at a
> slaughter plant expressed concern that foetuses of slaughtered animals
> might be drowning in their amniotic fluid.
> He said the study used extensive research into sheep which had been
> originally intended not for animal welfare purposes, but because sheep
> were an excellent large-animal "model" for humans. A collaboration with
> Auckland University's foetal physiology and neuroscience group had
> produced insights relevant to human foetuses.
> Prof Mellor will present a major paper to a two-day London conference on
> animal sentience, starting on March 17, which will examine the ability
> of a foetus and newborn to receive sensory information and to "feel"
> sensations that cause suffering.
> His paper will argue that the embryo and foetus cannot suffer before or
> during birth, and that suffering can only occur in the newborn when the
> onset of breathing sufficiently oxygenates its tissues sufficiently.
> Prof Mellor said that many paediatricians were convinced that a foetus
> in the womb could feel pain, because they based their judgement on
> comparable premature infants born as early as 24 week to 28 weeks.
> Those infants did experience pain, and paediatricians had assumed that
> so did an age-equivalent foetus.
> "But the chemical environment in the brain is very different after the
> baby is born," he said. Breathing oxygen was a key difference, in
> addition to loss of the chemicals produced by the placenta.
> When a baby was born, breathing oxygen caused a critical chemical
> messenger, adenosine, to be cleared from the bloodstream in seconds,
> allowing it to start experiencing consciousness.
> This indicated that stillborn babies that did not breath did not suffer
> pain or distress - they simply went from being asleep in the womb to
> profound unconsciousness and death.
> Prof Mellor said future areas of research would look at differences
> between foetuses that went through a normal birth and those that were
> delivered by caesarian section.
> Early indications were that providing the foetus could breath
> sufficiently well to oxygenate its blood, the loss of placental
> adenosine, the stimulation of cold air, loss of buoyancy, and
> "mechanical" touch would mean a baby from a caesarian birth would not be
> different to one which had gone through a normal delivery.
> Prof Mellor said he expected the work with Auckland University to spur
> significant discussion.
> In terms of humans, there was no doubt that doubt that babies before
> birth reacted to a range of stimuli because the sense organs of foetuses
> in the uterus began to work well before birth, he said.
> Touch, sound and other stimuli affected the foetus, and could cause it
> to move in the womb.
> "But the evidence, accumulated over the last 25-35 years, is that this
> does not occur at the conscious level," he said. Babies born with no
> cerebral cortex - the part of the brain essential for consciousness -
> could also respond with movements and hormone release and heart rate
> changes.
> But Prof Mellor said that though effects from stimulation of touch,
> sight, sound, and taste were not at a conscious level," it is possible -
> and some evidence suggests that it is in fact likely - that such effects
> persist well beyond birth".
> "Some might very well be at least benign, and perhaps even positively
> advantageous, depending on what they are," he said. "Playing music and
> speaking softly could well have beneficial effects".
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