Unborn twins have been filmed interacting with each other just 14 weeks into their mother’s pregnancy by researchers in Italy.
The remarkable videos could reignite debate about the current abortion law in Britain which permits terminations for up to 24 weeks.
The researchers, led by Dr Umberto Castiello from the University of Padova, filmed the behaviour of twins in the 14th and 18th week of pregnancy using 4D ultrasound technology.
They discovered that, starting from the 14th week of pregnancy, the twins performed movements specifically aimed at the co-twin.
By the 18th week the twins were found to be making more contact with each other and researchers concluded that they were “spending up to 30 percent of their time reaching out and stroking their co-twin.”
The report, entitled Wired to be Social: The Ontogeny of Human Interaction, concluded: “The results showed that the spatial and temporal characteristics of foetal movements were by no means uncoordinated, but depended on the goal of the different motor acts, suggesting a surprisingly advanced level of motor planning.”
It also concluded that “by the 14th week of gestation, twin foetuses not only display movements directed towards the uterine wall and self-directed movements, but also movements specifically aimed at the co-twin.”
The research was based on a study involving five sets of twins, who were monitored during two sessions recorded during the 14th and 18th week of pregnancy.
In October it emerged that a doctor had captured an image of a 17-week-old unborn baby smiling in its mother’s womb.
The remarkable image was described as “fantastic” by the baby’s parents, Sam and Louise Henry.
Prof Stuart Campbell, who took the picture, exclaimed: “This is a joyful expression of the humanity of the foetus.”
Prof Campbell, former head of obstetrics and gynaecology at King’s College and St George’s hospitals in London, added: “I have seen a foetus making a crying face at around 18 or 19 weeks, but not a nice smile. This is the earliest on record – it is just a delight”.
He commented that he did not know what caused the facial expression but said: “It is part of a sequence that involves yawning and making breathing movements and opening its eyelids and, of course, it makes a crying face.”