Psychologists are gaining new insights into the behavior of infants who remain in the uterus after they should have been born. The babies generally do not behave normally, although they usually are given no special attention.
An estimated 10 percent of babies are born with a condition known as Clifford's postmaturity syndrome, but little research has been done to investigate the possible social and emotional implications. Clifford's syndrome babies generally, though not always, are born sometime after 41 weeks of gestation. Because the environment in the uterus is no longer ideal to support the fetus, it begins living off of its own body fat.
Therefore, the babies are often born with an old-wizened appearance, compared to normal infants, and the skin is loose, dry and sometimes cracked and bleeding, due to dehydration. Psychologists are uncovering evidence that the extended gestation causes stresses that are manifested in difficulties associated with nursing.
Give a normal-term infant a minute amount of sugar dissolved in water, and it's like a sedative, almost immediately calming fitful, crying babies, and keeping them calm even after they no longer taste the solution. But if the same sugar solution is given to an infant born with Clifford's syndrome, the sweet taste has a less calming effect immediately, and there is no sustained calming after the taste is gone.
Barbara Smith, a research scientist in The Johns Hopkins University's Department of Psychology, discovered the diminished calming effect in postmature infants while studying how babies develop early attachments to their mothers.
A scientific paper about the findings will be published in the January issue of the Journal of Physiology and Behavior. The paper was written by Smith, Marie J. Hayes, a psychology professor at the University of Maine, and former graduate students Shawn M. Roberts of the University of Maine and Elizabeth Swanson of Hopkins.