Throughout my pregnancy I’ve been pondering the question of consciousness – not mine, that of my fetus. Is she aware of her environment? Does she have a sense of identity? Can she think, or dream? And if she was born tomorrow, what could she know about the world around her?
By the end of the first trimester, when most women will see their fetus for the first time through an ultrasound scan, its neural circuitry is roughly on a par with that of an earthworm or a marine snail, says David Edelman, a consciousness researcher at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California.
The comparison is approximate: all we can say for certain is that by around 12 weeks, the fetus has peripheral circuits which enable it to perform reflex actions without any involvement from the brain.
So although I could see my baby moving around when I had my first scan, that doesn’t mean she was consciously exploring. “At that stage there’s no link between the neurons of the spinal cord and the brain,” says Glover.