Thursday, March 13, 2014

Infant Communication: Learning in the Womb

Over the next few months we will introduce several posts about communication. Today’s post will focus on communication between caregiver and baby while baby is still in the womb.

Babies can hear and respond to sound prenatally and can even develop a preference to a particular sound, voice, or song after repeated exposure. Several studies have been conducted trying to explain how babies and caregivers begin their first communication. Although there is still a lot that is not known, and more research is needed, we’ve learned some interesting details that shed light on prenatal language acquisition.

·         Familiar rhymes are calming: One study measured changes in fetal heart rate in response to a rhyme that the mother recited during weeks 33-37 of pregnancy. When a recording of the rhyme was played at 37 weeks there was a noticeable decrease in the baby’s heart rate. There was no change in the baby’s heart rate when a different rhyme was introduced, indicating that a familiar rhyme was calming to the unborn baby.

·         Infants “recognized” stories heard in the womb: In a separate study, a 3-minute passage was read out loud twice per day for the last 6-weeks of pregnancy. After the babies were born the familiar passage and an unfamiliar passage were played for the baby. Infants preferred the recording of the story heard in the womb more frequently than the unfamiliar story. No preference was seen in a control group of infants not exposed to any story prenatally. From this study, authors concluded that babies do remember stories they heard while they were in the womb.

·         Listening to a familiar song changed babies’ states: A study of 2-4 day old babies monitored the infants as they listened to the theme song of a soap opera that their mothers reported watching prenatally. Compared to infants who were not exposed to the theme songs prenatally, infants who were exposed experienced a lower heart rate, a decrease in movements and transitioned to a more alert state while listening to the songs.

This information doesn’t tell us anything about the long-term effects of the sounds babies hear before they are born, but there is evidence that reading, singing, or playing music for your baby while you are pregnant can be calming both before and after birth.  Authors, however, warn against outside devises such as putting headphones close to the your pregnant belly, because it may effect  auditory development and interfere with behavioral state regulation.

Did you have an experience where your infant recognized a voice, song or story that they heard while you were pregnant? We’d love to hear your stories!

Reference: Moon CM, Fifer WP. Evidence of transnatal auditory learning. J Perinatol. 2000;S37-44.

No comments:

Post a Comment