when does a fetus start to feel emotion

when does a fetus start to feel emotion

when does a fetus start to feel emotion

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When can a fetus feel pain?

Even when a developing fetus can sense a light touch, he doesn’t feel pain the way you do. That requires not only touch receptors, but also the necessary

molecules and pathways in the brain to process a pain signal. The neural connections and the brain structures necessary to sense pain don’t develop until at least week 24 of pregnancy.

Simply having the physical structures in place still doesn’t mean a fetus can experience pain. The complex neural circuitry necessary to tell the difference

between regular touch and painful touch doesn’t develop until the end of the third trimester.

Researchers using brain scanning methods on unborn babies think that fetuses probably feel pain around the same time that the somatosensory system

finishes its development — about week 29 or week 30 of pregnancy. Before then, a fetus reacts to touch with a change in heart rate or hormone levels,

but the pain center of the brain doesn’t receive or consciously recognize the message.


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when does a fetus start to feel emotion
when does a fetus start to feel emotion

Do Fetuses Feel Pain?

Utah recently passed a law that requires doctors to give anesthesia to a fetus prior to performing an abortion that occurs at 20 weeks of gestation or later.

The law assumes that a fetus may be able to feel pain at that stage in development; however, doctors groups and other critics of the law argue that a fetus

cannot feel pain at 20 weeks gestational age.

Indeed, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said it considers the case to be closed as to whether a fetus can feel pain at that stage

in development. “The science shows that based on gestational age, the fetus is not capable of feeling pain until the third trimester,” said Kate Connors,

a spokesperson for ACOG. The third trimester begins at about 27 weeks of pregnancy. To find out more, Live Science dug into the research and spoke

with a leading expert on fetal pain. Here’s a look at what we found.

What Science Says About When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

A 2005 multidisciplinary review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) looked into the subject of fetal pain. Led by the University of California San Diego, researchers looked at 360 articles published in medical journals and concluded, “Pain is a subjective sensory and emotional experience that requires the presence of consciousness to permit recognition of a stimulus as unpleasant.” In other words, pain stimulus requires recognition. And recognition arrives at a very specific moment in fetal development.

Touch is the first sense to develop, with receptors present in the fetus’ face by week 8. But it takes until week 12 for sensory receptors to develop in palms and soles, and it’s not until week 17 that receptors are present in the abdomen. However, the fetus still needs to develop communication pathways to the brain.

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when does a fetus start to feel emotion
when does a fetus start to feel emotion

Those pathways are long and complex, the JAMA study notes. Before week 24 nerves aren’t typically developed enough to carry information to the spinal cord, and eventually, the brain’s cortex. The cortex that people perceive the feeling of pain.

But there’s a final piece to the puzzle: the connection between the cortex and the thalamus. That connection, according to researchers does not begin to develop until around week 23 of pregnancy. The authors of the JAMA conclude that the fetal experience of pain likely becomes possible around the 23rd week, but it’s more of a progression than an instantly realized ability.

A more recent Italian study, published in the journal Pediatric Research in 2020, analyzed 10 years of fetal pain studies and reached a similar conclusion. However, that study links the ability to feel pain to the production of stress hormones. Researchers note, “The fetus in the second half of pregnancy, in reaction to a potentially painful stimulus, produces stress hormones.”

So, based on available research, a fetus is likely able to start feeling some semblance of pain around week 23 of pregnancy.


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