Pregnant moms, go ahead and rub those bellies. It turns out, your baby likes it!

Past research has shown that babies respond to voices and music heard in the womb, suggesting that even before they are born our babies are listening to every word we say and sing. But a new study has found that the youngest of babies also respond to touch — even while they are still in their mother's womb.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Dundee in the United Kingdom, involved 23 pregnant women whose fetuses were between the 21st and 33rd week of gestation. The women were asked to try three activities: talking to their babies, stroking their bellies, and basically doing nothing. For the voice activity, the mother's read a story out loud — either "The Three Little Pigs" or "Jack and the Beanstalk." The women rubbed and stroked their stomachs for the touch activity. And for the control activity, the mothers laid still with their hands at their sides.

Researchers found that the fetuses responded the most during the activity involving touch. Older fetuses responded even more than younger ones, although the younger babies responded at a much earlier stage of gestation than had previously been documented. Older fetuses also moved around more and showed more self-touch — touching their hands or face — when their mothers were touching their bellies. 

From the study:

“Overall results suggest that maternal touch of the abdomen was a powerful stimulus, producing a range of fetal behavioural responses. Fetuses displayed more arm, head, and mouth movements when the mother touched her abdomen as compared to maternal voice in situ,” the researchers wrote.

The big question now is whether or not the babies were reaching out randomly or in an effort to touch their mothers. 

Either way, it shows that babies respond when their mother's bellies are touched. But word to the wise, this study only showed that babies liked it when their mothers touched their bellies. No word yet on how they feel about the touch of random strangers. And until there is a study that confirms otherwise, it's best to just keep your hands to yourselves.

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