Infants are known for their impressive ability to learn language, which most scientists say kicks in
somewhere around the six-month mark. But a new study indicates that language recognition may begin even earlier, while the baby is still in the womb. Using a creative means of measurement, researchers found that babies could already recognize their mother tongue by the time they left their mothers’ bodies.
The researchers tested American and Swedish newborns between seven hours and three days old. Each baby was given a pacifier hooked up to a computer. When the baby sucked on the pacifier, it triggered the computer to produce a vowel sound—sometimes in English and sometimes in Swedish. The vowel sound was repeated until the baby stopped sucking. When the baby resumed sucking, a new vowel sound would start.
People with milk allergies often turn to products like rice and soy milks. But now, in a twist, there is a new source of hypoallergenic milk in the offing: genetically-modified cows.
Parents should strictly limit how much children under two years old watch television or videos, says the American Academy of Pediatrics in a new policy statement, since TV time not only doesn’t seem to benefit babies, it may come with developmental drawbacks. (Activities like computer and touchscreen games, where the babies interact with what’s happening on the screen rather than passively watch it, aren’t included in the statement.) The academy issued a similar statement in 1999, discouraging screen time for kids less than 24 months old—and in the intervening decade, there’s been more research to back up that recommendation.
The birth defect spina bifida is a devastating condition, often leading to a life of cognitive disability and even paralysis. But for a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors have shown that fetal surgery conducted in utero, though tricky and carrying some risk, can help to fight the ravages of this affliction.
The study focused on women carrying fetuses diagnosed with myelomeningocele, the most common and most severe form of spina bifida, in which the spinal cord bulges outside the spinal column. The condition can result in lifelong cognitive disabilities, fluid on the brain, bowel problems and paralysis. Typically surgeons operate on such babies within a few days of birth. [Science News]
The option of performing surgery before birth—sealing the opening in the spinal column while the fetus is in the womb—has actually been around for more than a decade.
But no one knew if operating before birth was preferable to operating after. What they did know was that fetal surgery had a number of complications, including causing premature birth, which in some cases killed babies who would otherwise have survived. [ScienceNOW]