Babies That Hear Music In The Womb, Recognize It Months After Birth
October 31, 2013

Babies That Hear Music In The Womb, Recognize It After Birth

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Some childhood development experts have suggested that pregnant women play classical music for their unborn child with the idea that the songs stimulate a tiny, developing brain.

A new study from the University of Helsinki appears to support this advice with babies in the study recognizing a song they heard in the womb up to four months after birth, according to a paper in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Even though our earlier research indicated that fetuses could learn minor details of speech, we did not know how long they could retain the information,” said study researcher Eino Partanen, who is currently finishing his dissertation at the Finnish university’s Cognitive Brain Research Unit. “These results show that babies are capable of learning at a very young age, and that the effects of the learning remain apparent in the brain for a long time.”

The study included 24 women in their final trimester of pregnancy. Half of the women played a CD with the melody of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to their unborn child five days a week during the final stages of their pregnancies. These women were told to destroy the CD after their child was born to make certain any memory of the melody came from pregnancy.

The newborn babies were played the same melody shortly after birth while having their brainwaves measured. However, about one in eight notes of the lullaby the newborns heard had been altered. A second control group of babies also had their brain activity measured while listening to the song.

The brains of the babies who heard the song in the womb were more active upon hearing the familiar notes of the melody both immediately after birth and four months later, when compared with the control group. The study authors concluded fetuses are able to recognize and remember sounds coming from the outside world.

"This is the first study to track how long fetal memories remain in the brain. The results are significant, as studying the responses in the brain let us focus on the foundations of fetal memory. The early mechanisms of memory are currently unknown," said study author Minna Huotilainen, a cognitive scientist at the university.

The Finnish team said song and speech are highly beneficial for a developing fetus in terms of speech development. Research has shown that the processing of singing and speech in the brains of newborns are partly based on shared mechanisms, therefore hearing a song can boost a child’s speech development.

In their conclusion, the team noted that very little research has looked at the potential negative effects that noise – in a pregnant mother’s workplace, for example – can have on a fetus during the final three months of development.

"It seems plausible that the adverse pre-natal sound environment may also have long-lasting detrimental effects,” the Finnish scientists wrote. “Such environments may be, for example, noisy workplaces and, in the case of pre-term infants, neonatal intensive care units."

The team said a study is currently under way at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health that will focus on any potential negative effect of noise.