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Piontelli, A. (1987). Infant Observation from Before Birth. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 68:453-463.

(1987). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 68:453-463

Infant Observation from Before Birth

Alessandra Piontelli


My aim in this paper is to present some preliminary findings from ongoing research on the extension of infant observation to prenatal life with the aid of ultrasounds.

Till recently the natural world of the foetus was regarded as a kind of secret universe inaccessible to human sight and completely shielded from the outside by the abdominal and uterine walls. Information on foetal life was derived either from prematurely expelled nonviable human foetuses or from animal ones. In the last few years the introduction of real-time ultrasound techniques has opened up to us an entirely new dimension by making it possible to visualize and study the behaviour of an undisturbed foetus in its natural environment.

In this paper I will not enter in detail into the technique or the physical laws governing ultrasounds. Adequate expositions can be found in many specialized papers and books. Although I think that a good knowledge of these, as well as a thorough knowledge of maternal and foetal pathophysiology is required by anyone embarking on this type of research, here I will only sketch a few details so as to make it possible for the reader unacquainted with this technique to follow both its advantages and its limits. Ultrasounds, as their name says, are sound waves of a particular frequency beyond the limited range of our hearing capacities (i.e. above 20 Hz.). Ultrasounds were first used in marine biology as water is a very good medium for the transmission of sound waves.

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