Professor teaches students about infants
EAST VAIL – Every other year, Dr. William Fifer of Columbia University spends a week at Vail Mountain School sharing his research on prenatal development with seventh through 12th grade student in science and psychology classes. Fifer is a professor in the departments of pediatrics and psychiatry at Columbua’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and assistant director of the Sackler Institute of Developmental Psychobiology. He recently presented his findings on fetal, newborn and premature infant responses to sensory stimulation; changes in brain, heart rate and blood pressure during sleep/wake states; and, the effects of the prenatal environment on later development.
Students were told newborn babies not only recognize their own mother’s voice within hours of birth, but also prefer it to other voices and other stimuli. Newborns also show a preference for a “muffled” voice, similar to how it is heard in the womb, Fifer said. Fetal and newborn capabilities are nearly identical. “A fetus does all the same things that a newborn does such as thumb sucking, crying, and yawning,” Fifer said. Current research on sensory development reveals that a fetus hears, sees, breaths, develops a sense of balance, and even “walks” within the womb, he said.
Other topics of discussion included maternal influences on fetal development, including alcohol consumption and smoking, stress, the importance of sleep and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which is also known as SIDS. Studies of so-called “high-risk” populations in New York and on North Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation found “autonomic nervous system deficit is a hallmark of many SIDS victims because of a diminished capacity to respond to physiological challenges” during the vulnerable period of two months to four months. Thus, seemingly healthy babies exposed to alcohol and/or smoking during fetal development were at higher risk for SIDS, Fifer said..
Twelfth grader, Z Warren hadn’t “realized that so many babies died from SIDS.” “It was interesting to learn that it only happens at a certain age and that there are risks factors and prevention techniques,” Warren said. During their annual trip to New York City, Vail Mountain School seniors will visit the prenatal unit at Columbia University and watch Fifer treat premature babies at the facility.
Fifer’s association with the East Vail privcate school began 25 ago. Students say his visits to the school are a highlight of the spring term.Vail, Colorado