In addition to providing nutrition and support for the developing fetus, a womb confers safety and security to the developing fetus. It has now been found out that a womb is even necessary for normal brain development. Premature babies taken care of by artificial means have been found to have a poor brain development when compared to full term babies.
An ultrasound scan done regarding brain development of babies born around 26 weeks gestation revealed that certain aspects of brain development were compromised to a large extent in comparison to infants in utero. Infact few parts of the brain in premature babies did not change at all from the day the babies were born until they reached what would have been a full-term birth date.
The study has been conducted in a group of 80 premature boys and girls whose birth weight was less than 1,000 grams, born just 26 weeks into a normal 40-week pregnancy. Ultrasound examination was conducted at the time of birth and before discharge.
A comparison of scan pictures showed that certain frontal portions of the brains of the premature babies were comparable at birth to the brains of babies still in utero at that stage of gestation. However, even after 10 weeks of intensive care, no progress was seen in the brain development. Some portions of the front part of the brain were significantly smaller than those of babies who were born at or near full-term.
The affected prefrontal regions of the brain are important for numerous intellectual functions, including attention, planning and social judgment. It has been hypothesized that sensitisation of the premature baby to a complex environment before proper brain development has occurred could be responsible for the observation.
The findings of the study reflect upon the necessity for provision of specialized care and a near normal physiological environment to the premature infant until brain development has taken place. Further research is needed to understand what mechanisms in utero are missing after birth that are essential for the normal process of brain development.