Better Babies

Fetal and Infant Research at UW

It’s not that children are little scientists but that scientists are big children.
Alison Gopnik, Andrew Meltzoff, Patricia KuhlThe Scientist in the Crib
Effects of alcohol to unborn babies - a study by Smith, Jones, and Lancet (FAS Smith Jones Lancet article on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome)

Effects of alcohol to unborn babies - a study by Smith, Jones, and Lancet (FAS Smith Jones Lancet article on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome)

For more than 50 years, UW innovators have conducted groundbreaking research that has transformed the world’s understanding of how babies grow and thrive.

In the early 1970s, UW Dr. Christy Ulleland noticed a distinctive pattern of birth defects in babies born to alcoholic mothers. Her colleagues on the UW Medicine faculty, David Smith and Kenneth Jones, shared Ulleland’s interest in the relationship between maternal alcohol abuse and fetal development. Their findings were devastating: babies of alcoholic mothers suffered from low birth weight and congenital birth defects, and they battled physical and intellectual disabilities into toddlerhood and beyond. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) raised public awareness about the dangers of severe alcohol abuse in pregnancy, and it became a basis of many more studies at the UW about the maternal and infant health.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – Further Reading

“Study Shows Alcoholics’ Babies Often Defective” (Microsoft Word)
The UW research into Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was of great interest, and was reported in the popular press, 7/1/1973.
Seattle Times

“Book, Brochures to be Based on Survey of Birth Defects” (Microsoft Word)
UW research into Fetal Alcohol Syndrome informed scholarly writing and also public educational brochures, 8/28/1966
Seattle Times

“New Evidence on Alcoholism’s Harm” (Microsoft Word)
The Seattle Times editorial writers on maternal alcoholism, perceived as a public health crisis, 5/1/1975.
Seattle Times

“’The Broken Cord’ – A Writer’s Long Journey Toward Understanding” (PDF)
Seattle newspaper continues FAS coverage, noting the enduring nature of the syndrome, in older children – in this case, an adopted child, 8/9/1989
Seattle Times

“Recognition of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Earl Infancy” (PDF)
Kenneth Jones and David Smith’s seminal academic paper that described Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
The Lancet, November 3, 1973

“The Offspring of Alcoholic Mothers” (PDF)
Dr. Ulleland’s 1972 paper described her clinical experiences from UW’s Harborview Hospital, 1968-69, with newborn babies born to alcoholic mothers.
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1972

In the 1970s and 1980s, UW Psychology and Biophysics professor Davida Teller wanted to better understand how babies see. So she invented the Teller Acuity Cards, now used around the world. Her work hasn’t just helped doctors treat their infant patients–but has shown how infant brains connect seeing to understanding the world around them as they grow.

Teller visual acuity test cards

Teller visual acuity test cards

Baby Visual Acuity – Further Reading

“Spatial And Temporal Aspects Of Infant Color Vision” (PDF)
Dr. Davida Teller’s summary 1998 article on her research, exploring color visual acuity in infants.
Vision Research 38 (1998)

“First Glances: The Vision Of Infants” (PDF)
A reprint of Dr. Davida Teller’s Lecture, presented on receipt of the Friedenwald Award by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, 1997.
Teller Collection, University Archives, Special Collections, UW Libraries

Teller Seattle Times July 10, 1989 (PDF)

Andrew Meltzoff

Andrew Meltzoff

And as UW’s Patricia Kuhl and Andrew Meltzoff have shown in their work over the past two decades, humans possess a thrilling drive to learn from birth. Meltzoff’s discoveries about infant imitation of adult behavior dramatically changed understandings of personality development. Kuhl’s research on language acquisition has shown how babies listen and practice communication skills from the cradle-fundamentally altering public understanding of the critical 0-3 years for babies and children.

Brainy Babies – Further Reading

“Studies Show Talking With Infants Shapes Basis of Ability to Think” (PDF)
Popular interest Patricia Kuhl and Andrew Meltzoff’s work at the UW was intense, as parents made practical application of their laboratory research. 4/17/1997
New York Times

“Study Finds Baby Talk Means More Than a Coo” (PDF)
The national press continued to cover Meltzoff and Kuhl’s UW research, 8/1/1997.
New York Times

“Babies Learn Sounds of Language by Six Months” (PDF)
As early as 1992, the national press eagerly reported the research of Kuhl and Meltzoff, 2/4/1992.
New York Times

“UW Scientists to Study Foster Children” (PDF)
Local coverage of public applications of Kuhl and Meltzoff’s UW research, 4/18/2011.
Seattle Times

“Infant Science – A UW Couple Leads Our New Thinking About Babies Amazing Minds” (PDF)
Kuhl and Meltzoff’s work went far beyond understanding infant speech acquisition to surprising patterns of infant learning, 3/6/2005.
Seattle Times

“She Squeezes Fame Into Her Busy Schedule” (PDF)
Dr. Patricia Kuhl seemed to some journalists to embody the busy woman who managed to “have it all,” and she became a role model, 5/8/1997.
Seattle Times

“’Pointing Game’ Turns into Directions for Life” (PDF)
When The Scientist in the Crib was published, the press popularized many of its findings – here, interpreting the pointing game parents and children “play” as the work of learning, 10/5/2002.
Seattle Times

Additional Resources

Embryo Project Summary on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

UW Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnostic and Prevention Network

Sterling Clarren Interview on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Patricia Kuhl Faculty Page

UW Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences

Andrew Metlzoff Faculty Page

Research Agenda at ILABS

Patricia Kuhl TED Talk

New York Times Blog Article

Davida Teller Obituary

Davida Teller Biography