Can Baby Hear Me in the Womb?Dianna Graveman | 3, January 2012
Experts now agree most unborn babies can hear sometime in the third trimester, some as early as 20 weeks. Sonograms have shown a fetus to turn its head toward a sound, and very loud or startling sounds can speed up a baby's heart rate or movements. Naturally, the baby can hear your voice, your heartbeat, and other sounds your body makes as blood flows through your veins and your stomach digests food. But he can also hear sounds other than those you make, although they are more muffled. According to Robert Adams, a fetal physiologist at University of Florida, babies can hear tones above middle C more easily than high frequency sounds. Therefore, men's voices are more clear than women's, he suggests ("What's it like in the womb?" WebMD, 2000). Doctors and parents both agree that babies prefer their own mothers' voices over any others, however.
Doctors have long known babies can hear music, prompting baby product companies to market multiple collections of CDs to expectant parents. But are they really worth the money? Will listening to classical music in utero make your baby smarter? Will it increase spatial skill development? Will it simply give your child an early start in music appreciation?
Playing music may have benefits, experts say. In fact, some studies have detected unborn babies will begin breathing in time to particular types of music--presumably music they enjoy. However, the biggest benefits might not come in the ways you think. Some doctors feel that setting aside time to listen to music with an unborn baby encourages the parents to be more attentive during the pregnancy and to begin to set expectations for the baby's continued musical development after birth. Also, if music relaxes the mother, the baby will feel those effects and relax, too.
However, it appears that if a parent plays the same music over and over, a baby will stop paying attention--much the way an older child will stop paying attention to a repetitive activity later on. Variety is key.
Some studies have also suggested that newborns may recognize a particular story that was read to them repeatedly while in utero, or they may remember a song--even a television theme song from a show their parents watched each week.
While your baby may not recognize actual words, Dr. Diane Paul, a speech-language pathologist for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Maryland, says that studies have shown babies can detect the differences between languages they hear before they are born ("What's it like in the Womb?" WebMD, 2000). Kathleen Wermke, PhD, a researcher of the study, which is published in Current Biology, analyzed the cries of several babies born to either French-speaking parents or German-speaking parents. All had normal hearing. The French babies cries rose from lower tones to high tones; the German babies' cries moved from high tones to low. The studies suggested that the babies' cries mimicked the patterns of their parents' native languages.
What does all this mean for you and your baby?
While some experts and studies have determined that babies who are spoken to and interacted with in utero develop early speech skills, others feel the variations in abilities relate more to genetics and environmental influences after birth. In other words, the jury is still out.
Most pediatricians suggest you should do what feels right for you. If you know the gender of your baby and have chosen a name, you may want to talk directly with your child and use the name often. Some parents who have done so report having a closer and more immediate bond after birth, and they insist their children recognized their names right away.
If you want to play music for your child, some doctors caution against placing headphones on your abdomen for fear it may disrupt sleep patterns or startle your baby. Simply listen to music you enjoy, at a reasonable volume. If you are relaxed and comfortable, chances are, your baby will be, too.
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