There is quite possibly nothing more soothing to both mom and baby than a good old fashioned lullaby. It relaxes mom and lulls the little one off into dreamland, as well as an amazing bonding experience for the both of you. Even before our children are born, we often catch ourselves humming a little tune now and then, sometimes even putting earphones on our bellies so our child can hear music too. But new research has found that infants can recognize a nursery rhyme that was taught to them while they were still in utero.
Researchers at the University of Florida were set on finding out at what specific age fetuses can learn and retain information. To do this, a group of 32 who were in their 28th week of pregnancy were asked to recite a nursery rhyme to their child in utero twice daily up until the 34th week of gestation. At the 38th week of gestation, the mothers were once again called into the lab to determine whether or not the rhyme had been learned.
While it seems that it may be a bit tricky to figure out whether or not the child has learned it, mostly because there is no real way to record the brain activity of a fetus, scientists have devised a way to determine this. With a simple fetal heart monitor, researchers are able to see how the fetus reacts to hearing the nursery rhyme. Many studies have shown that a late-term fetus’ heart rate will slow down if it hears something familiar.
The moms who were being studied wore headphones and listened to ‘Four Seasons’ by Vivaldi, while the voice of a female stranger recited either a different rhyme or the same rhyme the mother had recited daily. The headphones made certain that the mothers could not hear what or when the fetus was being exposed to. The fetuses who heard the familiar rhyme showed a slower heart rate, while those who heard a completely different rhyme stayed the same.
Charlene Krueger, the study’s lead author and an associate professor in nursing at the University of Florida says, “We were basically asking the fetus, if your mother says this repeatedly, will you remember it? As a take away message I would want mothers to understand is that their speech is very important to the developing fetus. When a mother speaks, not only does the fetus hear, but also the whole spine vibrates.”
This groundbreaking study shows that the timeline when babies begin to learn and maintain information is much earlier than we thought. Pediatric neurologist Dr. Shafali Jesti, an assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles says that the results of this new study is “pushing the envelope earlier. It is really before they are born.” Jeste does mention however, that moms shouldn’t constantly be putting speakers up against their tummies to try and educate their little ones earlier, as loud noises can cause fetal distress.
It is Krueger’s hope that this research will help medical personnel to take initiative when caring for preterm infants and play recordings of mothers talking to their infants. She says, “My goal really is to identify experimentally the benefits of providing this kind of exposure to the preterm infant who has largely lost hearing a very important voice – the mother’s.”