Why do babies kick so much in the womb? Pregnant women have been asking themselves that question for ages. Recent research suggests one possible explanation.
A November 2018 study published in Scientific Reports suggests that these kicks in the womb might allow a baby to map out his or her body and eventually explore nearby surroundings later on. For the study, researchers measured the brainwaves of 19 newborns while they were asleep. Researchers found that these infants had quite fast brainwaves when they kicked their limbs during a period of their slumber called rapid eye movement sleep.
While these new babies in question were obviously already out of the womb, researchers pointed out that these particular kind of brainwaves were at the largest size for premature babies (who were technically supposed to still be in the womb at that time).
"Spontaneous movement and consequent feedback from the environment during the early developmental period are known to be necessary for proper brain mapping in animals such as rats," said study author Lorenzo Fabrizi, PhD, in a press release. "Here we showed that this may be true in humans, too."
Though these special types of brainwaves typically stop happening for babies after they are a few weeks old, they may have a lasting impact on how the tiny human develops a sense of his or her body, researchers say.
"We think the findings have implications for providing the optimal hospital environment for infants born early, so that they receive appropriate sensory input. For example, it is already routine for infants to be 'nested' in their cots — this allows them to 'feel' a surface when their limbs kick, as if they were still inside the womb," said fellow author Kimberley Whitehead. "As the movements we observed occur during sleep, our results support other studies which indicate that sleep should be protected in newborns, for example by minimizing the disturbance associated with necessary medical procedures."
Turns out all that pain from the kicking was worth it after all!