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Clues at first kick

A researcher looks at fetal movement for insight into infant development

Can date on fetal movement help predict how a baby will develop? One BU researcher hopes to find out.

Aside from the fact that a very high level of fetal movement can indicate neurological damage in babies, not much is known about how fetal movement, especially in the last trimester, correlates with infant development. Now a BU graduate psychology student is conducting a study to find out if — and how — patterns of fetal movement relate to development of temperament, motor and mental skills, and activity level of infants up to six months old.   

“Nobody’s ever looked at how the pattern of fetal movement predicts infant development — only fetal movement at specific time points,” says Sonia Chawla (GRS’01,’07). The results, due in about a year, may help design tests for infants needing early intervention.

The project is relatively simple: expectant mothers keep track of fetal movements every week, sending the data charts to Chawla, who is doing the study as the basis of her dissertation. When the babies are born, she gets the relevant birth data, and visits at three and six months. During each visit she does a standard motor and mental assessment and a temperament assessment. She also attaches small motion recorders to the baby that track movements for 48 hours.

Recruitment for the study has been slow, Chawla notes, partly because of privacy issues, so she hands out flyers at events like the Boston Baby Fair and at health centers. She’s still enrolling volunteers; to participate, expectant mothers must enroll prior to their 30th week of gestation.

Contact Sonia Chawla at sonia@bu.edu or see her Web site for more information.