Premature babies as good as others in use of hands

March 2nd, 2010 - 11:03 am ICT by IANS  

London, March 2 (IANS) Even premature babies are capable of recognising and distinguishing two objects of different shapes (a prism and a cylinder) with their right or left hands, a new study has found.
The sense organs and sensory systems of premature babies are less efficient than those of full-term babies, though the latter are also not yet fully developed.

Now researchers have found preterm human infants have fully efficient manual perception that are just as good as other babies.

Starting in the very first minutes after birth, a full-term infant is subjected to extensive tactile stimulation: it is washed, held on its mother’s stomach, nursed, diapered.

Its body almost immediately experiences contact with skin other than its own, with towels, sheets, nipples — in short, with objects of different textures, shapes and consistencies.

It is common knowledge that a baby will flex its fingers tightly if its palm is touched by a finger, but this grasping reaction is not just a simple reflex.

Even in the first hours of its life, a full-term newborn already has effective manual perception, a tactile capacity that enables it to make sense of its environment.

But what about the premature infant, whose neurological functions are even less developed due to its early birth?

Researchers at the Laboratoire de psychologie et neurocognition (CNRS/University of Grenoble 2/University of Chambery) and the Laboratoire de psychologie de la perception (CNRS/University of Paris Descartes) in cooperation with a neonatology team of the Grenoble Hospitals, conducted an experiment with premature babies aged 33 to 34 + 6 gestational weeks (GW), approximately two weeks after their birth.

Their average gestational age (age at birth) was 31 GW (which corresponds to about seven months of pregnancy) and their average weight at birth was 1,500 grams, said a CNRS release.

The findings were published on the PLoS One website.

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