The fact that a newborn baby can experience pain has previously been taken as evidence that pain reflexes are inborn, not learned. This is because the baby in the womb has been protected from everything that could cause pain and should therefore not have been able to learn what pain is. But according to a team of scientists at Lund University, Sweden, headed by Professor Jens Schouenborg, the tactile feeling of fetal movements in the womb is sufficient to initiate a process of learning in the undeveloped pain system.
"The system for tactile feeling needs only tiny stimuli: the skin reacts to extremely light pressure and contact. We have found that the tactile feeling is used to training the pain system, which normally reacts to stronger stimuli," says Alexandra Waldenstrom.
She recently defended her thesis, in which she has studied reactions to pain in newborn rats, using ultra-short pain-inducing pulses of heat. The experiments showed that the young rats started to learn how to withdraw their tails from noxious stimuli at the age of ten days. In terms of maturity this period in a young rat corresponds to the fetal stage in humans, roughly between weeks 10 and 30.
Ingela Björck | alfa
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