Pain is an emotional and psychological experience that requires conscious recognition of a noxious stimulus. Consequently, the capacity for conscious perception of pain can arise only after thalamocortical pathways begin to function, which may occur in the third trimester around 29 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, based on the limited data available. Small-scale histological studies of human fetuses have found that thalamocortical fibers begin to form between 23 and 30 weeks’ gestational age, but these studies did not specifically examine thalamocortical pathways active in pain perception.

 While the presence of thalamocortical fibers is necessary for pain perception, their mere presence is insufficient—this pathway must also be functional. It has been proposed that transient, functional thalamocortical circuits may form via subplate neurons around midgestation, but no human study has demonstrated this early functionality. Instead, constant SEPs appear at 29 weeks’ PCA, and EEG patterns denoting wakefulness appear around 30 weeks’ PCA. Both of these tests of cortical function suggest that conscious perception of pain does not begin before the third trimester.