Follow the amazing development of the child in the womb in this information packed site. Packed with beautiful photographs and amazing facts including an early-life section.
Dr. Jerome Lejeune, known as "The Father of Modern Genetics," testified that human life begins at conception before the Louisiana Legislature's House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice on June 7, 1990.
Dr. Lejeune explained that within three to seven days after fertilization we can determine if the new human being is a boy or a girl. "At no time," Dr. Lejeune said, "is the human being a blob of protoplasm. As far as your nature is concerned, I see no difference between the early person that you were at conception and the late person which you are now. You were, and are, a human being."
Dr. Lejeune also pointed out that each human being is unique - different from the mother - from the moment of conception. He said, "Recent discoveries by Dr. Alec Jeffreys of England demonstrate that this information [on the DNA molecule] is stored by a system of bar codes not unlike those found on products at the supermarket...it's not any longer a theory that each of us is unique."
Dr. Jerome Lejeune died on April 3, 1994. Dr. Lejeune of Paris, France was a medical doctor, a Doctor of Science and a professor of Fundamental Genetics for over twenty years. Dr. Lejeune discovered the genetic cause of Down Syndrome, receiving the Kennedy Prize for the discovery and, in addition, received the Memorial Allen Award Medal, the world's highest award for work in the field of Genetics.
He practiced his profession at the Hôpital des Enfants Malades (Sick Children's Hospital) in Paris. Dr. Lejeune was a member of the American Academy of the Arts and Science, a member of the Royal Society of Medicine in London, The Royal Society of Science in Stockholm, the Science Academy in Italy and Argentina, The Pontifical Academy of Science and The Academy of Medicine in France.
According to medical and genetic textbooks, the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in a single fertilized human egg carries as much data as 50 sets of the 33-volume Encyclopedia Britannica.
These fifty sets of encyclopedia are equivalent to 1,373,625,000 words which, if typewritten in a single line, would stretch for 14,453 miles, more than halfway around the world. For those with an affinity for computers, this is equivalent to about 15,000 megabytes of data. This information would fill 41,700 5-1/4 inch (360 kilobyte) floppy disks, or would make a stack of such disks 280 feet high, about as tall as a thirty-story skyscraper.
If a person read this mountain of information at 300 words a minute for a standard 40-hour week, he would begin on college graduation day and not finish until retirement at age 58 - a total of 37 years! And all of this data is packed into a one-celled organism barely visible to the unaided human eye.
After conception in the Fallopian tubes, the new human being travels slowly down the tube towards the uterus. Its development has already begun. In fact, by the time the blastocyst has implanted in the uterus, it has undergone eight cell divisions of the 45 required to achieve full adulthood at age 18. The blastocyst, which consists of about 256 cells, contains as much information as the main library in a large American city.
This library would contain more than 3 million volumes with a total of about 350 billion words. If these books were stacked on top of each other, they would make a pile fifty miles high. If this information were typewritten in a single line, the line would extend 3.7 million miles, or from here to the Moon and back eight times.
At the end of the first month of development, a strip running from the future shoulder to the future hip forms from the intermediate layer of the embryo. At the 5th week, two slightly flattened limb buds appear, first those for the hands and then for the feet. Elongation of the arms and legs occurs subsequently.
The arm buds and then the leg buds quickly develop into limb segments, and two weeks later the hands and spatula-shaped feet arise at the limb extremities. Later on, i.e. during the second half of this month, the fingers separate and acquire a tapered aspect, while the limbs continue to grow longer and the knee, ankle, elbow and wrist joints form.
With development of joint mobility, the forearm is flexed against the arm and the leg against the thigh. The embryo gradually assumes a fetal position: he twists his elbow bringing the hand near the face, and flexion of the knee brings the soles of the feet close to each other.
These appear as evidenced by ultrasound examination beginning with the 8th week of term. These first movements are slow, rare and jerky, and are similar to crawling movements because the fetal joints still have little mobility.
At about 2 and a half months of term, fetal movements become more frequent, more rapid, together with movements that are still poorly and imperfectly coordinated, such as the hand moving towards the mouth. At this stage, the musculature is still little developed, but the joints become functional. Movements still are not strong enough to be felt by the mother.
Beginning at 3 months and thereafter, outside of the main sleep periods for the fetus which are lengthy, fetal movements acquire strength and precision and active movements are associated with slower movements of stretching. The mother begins to feel these movements at about four months of term.
Coordination and precision of movements now are related to the extent of organisation of the central nervous system which is being formed.
Then, with the fetus comfortably installed inside his capsule, he then moves his arms and legs in all directions simulating an actual aquatic dance characterised by suppleness and graceful movement.
During the last two months, with the fetus limited to a very confined amount of space, movements occur much less frequently: the fetus pushes against the wall of the uterus with his foot, and twists to get out of an uncomfortable position. But these movements still occur. If such movements no longer occurred for 24 hours, the mother would have to immediately inform her physician.
The age of a premature baby at birth is measured by age from first day of last menstrual period (LMP). Weight is also a measure when the dates are uncertain, a 20- to 22-week-old baby has an average weight of 500-600 gm (1 lb., 2 oz. to 1 lb., 5 oz.) with "normals" varying from 400 to 700 gm (14 oz. to 1 lb., 9 oz.).
There are also other maturation factors that are used. With the widespread establishment of premature intensive care units, the age of survival has dropped dramatically. For example, in 1950, it was rare for a baby to survive if born at 30 weeks (A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks). Today, survival ability has occurred in infants born as early as 20 weeks premature.
Tomorrow, babies born even more prematurely will survive. It's only a question of time and technology. Some day there will be artificial placentas and then who knows how early a preemie will be able to survive?
For instance, it may be possible to save babies much younger by using oxygen saturated liquid instead of air.
Surgery is now possible before a baby is even born and can now be performed on subjects just 22 weeks after conception. But how do you check up on a patient when it's gone back into the womb? Doctors are now using technology developed for astronauts to monitor the health of unborn surgical patients. A tiny radio transmitter can be implanted into the fetus or the mother's uterus. This sends information about vital signs to doctors.
Fetal surgery inevitably causes premature birth and the device can also help here. If contractions are caught early enough, drugs can stop the delivery process, allowing the tiny patient more time to rest and recover before facing the outside world. Fetal Surgery is about to enter the mainstream of medical practice.
Up till now only life threatening birth defects have been considered for treatment because fetal surgery is almost invariably followed by a premature birth - itself a life threatening complication. But thanks to a combination of less invasive surgery and a new transmitter monitoring pill, serious but not fatal birth defects can now be safely treated.
The monitoring pill is inserted inside the womb alongside the fetus. It warns when contractions begin and gives doctors a chance to hold back the onset of premature labour.
Scientists have shown for the first time that newborn babies have a "unique" nervous system which makes them respond differently to pain than adults. In research that has far-reaching implications for the medical and surgical treatments of infants, the scientists have found that newborn children feel pain longer and more sensitively. In premature babies, the mechanism that allows older children and adults to "dampen down" the pain messages does not work properly. Until recently it has been presumed that a baby's pain system was too immature to function properly, or that they reacted in a similar way to adults, but less efficiently. Researchers at University College London have now discovered that babies' sensory systems have a unique pain-signalling mechanism, which disappears, as they grow older.
It is only in the past 10 years that it has even been acknowledged that babies and infants feel pain. Before that, babies born prematurely - after less than 30 weeks of pregnancy - would undergo traumatic or surgical procedures without pain-killing drugs. Ticky Wright, of the Women's and Children's Welfare Fund, set up to promote research into pain relief of the unborn child, last night welcomed the new research. Mrs. Wright said "I call this the 'oops' syndrome. First we were told that infants did not feel pain, then that newborn babies did not, then that a fetus did not. Each time it is looked at, the boundaries are pushed further and further. Yet masses more research needs to be done."