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Baby Talk

Prospective parents can now "feel" a baby in the womb with the aid of a computer system that converts ultrasound images into a tactile virtual picture. A 3D ultrasound image of the baby is generated by layering successive 2D pictures on top of one another. The computer then traces the features of the fetus and allows the 3D shapes to be felt using a device which resembles a robot arm.

"When the cursor touches a virtual object, the motors in the device kick in and that's what lets you actually feel it," says Tom Anderson of Novint, the New Mexico-based company that invented the system. "It's a pretty amazing experience. You can feel the nose and reach down and touch the lips."

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Babies can easily distinguish between different faces as early as six months and may even be better at it than adults. Michelle de Haan and her team from the University of Sheffield and University College London found that infants can even tell the difference between monkeys, something few adults can do. They believe natural changes in the brain as we grow older may be the reason why adults are not as good at recognizing people.

The researchers believe the changes might be like those associated with language, since our ability to learn new languages decreases with age. Their findings are based on an analysis of brain patterns and eye movements of infants after they were shown a series of pictures of human and monkey faces. A study of their brain waves found that while infants could distinguish between different monkeys, adults could not. When the pictures were turned upside down, the babies could still recognize the monkeys.

De Haan says, "We usually think about development as a process of gaining skills, so what is surprising about this case is that babies seem to be losing ability with age. This is probably a reflection of the brain's 'tuning in' to the perceptual differences that are most important for telling human faces apart and losing the ability to detect those differences that are not so useful."

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Baby talk may sound silly to adults, but to babies it?s an important lesson.Researchers Denis Burnham and Christine Kitamura of the University of Western Sydney and Ute Vollmer-Conna of the University of New South Wales, Australia, analyzed the sounds mothers make when they talk with adults, with animals and with their babies and found that the parents slipped automatically into a different speech pattern for each.

For the pets and for the infants, the mothers used the same tone and rhythm, but there was a subtle difference: For baby talk, the mothers elongated and emphasized the vowels. Both pets and babies are spoken to in a higher pitch, with a special intonation, rhythm and feeling, but only with babies did the mothers use "hyperarticulated vowels," the researchers say. "These results show that the infant- and pet-directed speech are similar and distinctly different from adult-directed speech. Mothers exaggerate their vowels for their infants, but not for their pets." This suggests mothers are instinctively attempting to teach their babies how to talk, but are not expecting pets to learn any language.

They conducted their study by putting microphones on 12 mothers and recording their speech as they talked with adults, infants and pets. Jean Berko Gleason, a Boston University psychologist and speech development researcher, says the findings support other studies that also have shown parents automatically adjust their speech patterns for children. "When you talk to your cat it may sound like baby talk, but it's really not providing the kinds of information about the way sounds are made as you do when you talk to infants," says Gleason. "Saying the vowels very, very clearly is really specific for speech to infants."

So we shouldn?t avoid ?Baby Talk.? Gleason says even parents who try to avoid using "baby talk words" will unconsciously raise the frequency or pitch of their voice when talking with babies. She says, "When parents say ah, ee or oo, they are saying them very clearly so the baby can get the hang of it, but they don't do that for their pets."

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Hospital delivery rooms nationwide are gearing up for a summer baby boom that was caused by the September 11 terrorist attacks. "This was kind of a wake-up call for people," says Dr. Paul Kastell, an obstetrician and professor at Long Island College Hospital in New York City. "They saw the towers burning. And when they got home they said, 'You know, it's never going to be the right time. We should start now.'" New York, which took the biggest hit in the terrorist attacks, is expected to have the greatest baby boom.

Kastell says that, beginning in mid-June, deliveries in his own Brooklyn practice will increase 20 to 25 percent compared with last summer. Dr. Jacques Moritz at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan anticipates a 15 percent increase. And St. Vincent's Hospital, not far from ground zero, is also preparing for a summer boom.

Delivery room staffs around the country are bracing themselves. At Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, summer deliveries will include some of the hospital's own staff. Five nurses in Baylor's labor-and-delivery department are pregnant and due in July and August. Celebrities are becoming parents too. During a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, comedian Chris Rock said September 11 inspired his wife?s pregnancy.

Julia Beck Bromberg explains it this way: "If we had begun to take each other and our child for granted, this ended on that day." Her husband is an attorney who works two blocks from the White House. New information suggests that might have been the intended target of the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Beck Bromberg, who runs a business called Forty Weeks, a wholesaler for products for babies and new mothers. Her company's sales to retailers are up more than 75 percent. In Miami, the Stork Avenue birth announcement company has added staff because catalog requests indicate that business could quadruple this summer.

"Maybe our child can help in some small way to make the world a better place," says Missy Acosta, who is due in July and lives just outside Nashville. Christopher Coyne and his wife, of Houston, conceived a daughter while on a brief honeymoon in Manhattan, one month after planes hit the World Trade Center. They've decided to name her Nicole Yvette Coyne ? initials "NYC."

Wonder how many of those newborns will turn out to be Indigos? If you need help with your Indigo child, read ?Indigo Children? and ?An Indigo Celebration? by Lee Carroll and Jan Tober,click here.

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