Follow the amazing development of the child in the womb in this information-packed section, packed with beautiful photographs and amazing facts, including an early-life section.
Dr Jérôme Lejeune (1926–1994), known as the ‘father of modern genetics’, was a highly credentialled French pediatrician and medical doctor who made a unique and enduring contribution to the anti-abortion field as a Doctor of Science and professor of Fundamental Genetics. Dr. Lejeune also discovered the chromosomal cause of Down Syndrome, for which he received the Kennedy Prize and William Allen Award, the highest international award for work in the field. Today, the Jérôme Lejeune Institute in Paris works with patients suffering from a genetic disease involving intellectual disability.
On 7 June, 1990, Dr. Lejeune testified before the Louisiana Legislature's House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice that human life begins at conception. He explained that as early as 3 to 7 days after fertilisation, it can even be determined if the new human being is a boy or a girl. ‘At no time’, he stated, ‘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 – i.e. biologically distinct from the mother – from the moment of conception. As he declared, ‘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.’
According to medical and genetic studies, the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in a single fertilised human egg carries as much data as 50 sets of the 33-volume Encyclopedia Britannica or 1,373,625,000 words, which, if typewritten in a single line, would stretch for 14,453 miles or more than halfway around the world. In computational language, this is equivalent to about 15,000 megabytes of data – enough to fill 41,700 5¼-inch (360 KB) floppy disks or a stack of disks 280 feet high – about as tall as a 30-storey skyscraper.
If a person read this mountain of information at 300 words a minute over the course of a 40-hour week, they would have to begin at the age of 21 and would not finish until the age of 5 - a total of 37 years! All of this data is packed into a one-celled organism barely visible to the unaided human eye.
After conception in the Fallopian tube, the new human being travels slowly down it towards the uterus, its development having already begun. In fact, by the time the blastocyst has implanted in the uterus, it will have already undergone 8 of the 45 cell divisions required to achieve full adulthood at age 18. The blastocyst, which consists of about 256 cells, contains as much information as a metropolitan library in a large American city – more than 3 million volumes or a total of about 350 billion words. If these books were stacked on top of each other, they would make a pile 50 miles high. Were this information typewritten in a single line, it would extend 3.7 million miles or from the Earth to the Moon and back 8 times.
From the 3rd week after conception, the levels of HCG hormone produced by the blastocyst rapidly increase, which signals to the ovaries to stop releasing eggs and produce more oestrogen and progesterone. Increased levels of these hormones stop the menstrual period, often the first sign of pregnancy, and support the growth of the placenta.
The embryo is now made of 3 layers. The top layer – the ectoderm – will give rise to the baby's outermost layer of skin, the central and peripheral nervous systems, the eyes, and the inner ears.
The baby's heart and a primitive circulatory system will form in the middle layer of cells: the mesoderm. This layer of cells also serves as the foundation for the baby's bones, ligaments, kidneys, and much of the reproductive system.
The inner layer of cells – the endoderm – is where the baby's lungs and intestines will develop.
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 for the hands and then for the feet, after which the arms and legs start to elongate.
The arm and then leg buds quickly develop into limb segments, and 2 weeks later the hands and spatula-shaped feet arise at the limb extremities. 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 the development of joint mobility, the forearm is flexed against the arm and the leg against the thigh. The embryo now gradually assumes a foetal position: s/he twists his/her elbow,bringing the hand near the face, and flexion of the knee brings the soles of the feet close to each other.As can be shown by ultrasound scan,, these first movements beginn from the 8th week of term. However, they are slow, rare, and jerky, and are similar to crawling movements because the foetal joints still have little mobility.
At about 2½ months of term, the baby’s movements become more frequent and 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. However, these movements are still not strong enough to be felt by the mother.
After 3 months, outside of the main and lengthy foetal sleep periods,, the baby’s movements acquire strength and precision, whose active movements are associated with slower stretching. The mother begins to feel these movements at about 4 months. The baby’s coordination and precision of movement is now related to the extent of organisation of the central nervous system which is being formed. Once the foetus is comfortably installed inside his/her capsule, s/he then moves his/her arms and legs in all directions in a kind of supple and graceful aquatic dance.
During the last 2 months of gestation, with the foetus limited to a very confined amount of space, movements occur much less frequently as s/he pushes against the wall of the uterus with his/her foot or twists to get more comfortable (Where such movements cease for 24 hours, the mother would be medically advised to inform her physician straight away.)
The age of a premature baby at birth is measured by his/herage from the first day of the last menstrual period (LMP). Weight is also a measure when the dates are uncertain, e.g. a 20- to 22-week-old baby has an average weight of 500–600 gm (1 lb., 2 oz.–1 lb., 5 oz.) with ‘normals’ varying from 400–700 gm (14 oz.–1 lb., 9 oz.).Other maturation factors may also be used.
With the widespread establishment of premature intensive care units, the age of potential foetal viability has dropped dramatically. For example, in 1950, it was rare for a baby to survive at 30 weeks . Today, however, infants born much earlier are surviving, e.g. Curtis Means, weighing just 420g, was delivered in Birmingham, Alabama, at just 21 weeks on 11 November 2021.
Surgery is now possible for a baby before they are born and has been performed on babies at just 23 weeks’ gestation. For example, in cases where spina bifida is diagnosed, the pregnant mother’s uterus can be removedto allow doctors to make a surgical incision to operate on the unborn baby, after which the incision is closed and the uterus returned to the her body, where the baby will continue to develop until his/her due date.
Yes. Scientists conducting a comprehensive review of the literature surrounding this topic have concluded that the unborn baby may even feel pain within the first trimester, as early as 12 weeks, with 15 weeks’ gestation being the point at which studies have stated that the unborn baby is ‘extremely sensitive to painful stimuli’.