Music in the womb

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Gwyneth Paltrow allegedly spent time during her pregnancies playing her husband, Chris Martin of Coldplay’s, music to her babies. And while there are conflicting reports on whether or not playing music to your baby in utero will aid their intelligence, an exciting new study has found that children recognise and prefer music they were exposed to in the womb, for at least a year after they are born.

The implications are clear; it shows that a baby’s developing brain is able to store and recover memories after a long period, and it also provides a wonderful way for moms to bond with their babies by connecting with them over a shared enjoyment and familiarity with music their mother played them in the first place. 

The study carried out by the University of Leicester demonstrated how one-year-old babies recognise music they were exposed to up to 3 months before birth. Dr Alexandra Lamont from the Music Research Group at the University says: “We know that the foetus in the womb is able to hear fully only 20 weeks after conception. Now we have discovered that babies can remember and prefer music that they heard before they were born over 12 months later.” 

For the study, the mothers involved chose their own music and the choices ranged from classical to reggae. Testing was carried out 12 months later and the babies showed a significant preference for the pieces played to them by their mother, compared with ones they had not heard before. Dr Lamont was quick to emphasise that there was no evidence that playing a particular type of music had any effect on their intelligence levels.

The possibility that playing music will have a soothing influence is excellent news for any mother with an unsettled baby, or a parent looking to spend some relaxing time with their baby. The fact that parent and child can listen to music they can both enjoy is an added bonus at a time when “me” time is at a minimum. 

This means that parents interested in the idea of prenatal stimulation of their baby can share their own musical preferences with their baby, by using musical stimuli to communicate with their developing baby prior to birth. However, paediatric specialists suggest sharing a diverse range of music choices. 

“Diversity of different kinds of music are essential and can be useful for the baby’s future writing, reading and language skills,” says Dr. Philip A. De Fina, associate professor at the New York University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience and chief neuropsychologist and director of neurotherapies at the NYU Brain Research Laboratories. 

It’s important if you choose to put headphones on your belly to limit it to an hour per day to avoid over-stimulating your baby. Amniotic fluid is an effective conductor so make sure the volume isn’t too high. Kristin James, mother of two children is convinced her constant playing of reggae during her pregnancies is the reason her children enthusiastically join in sing-alongs to Bob Marley. “I think they were singing his songs before they learned their nursery rhymes!” 

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A shared love of particular songs or music is a wonderful way for a mother and baby to bond. Music is an integral part of our culture in forms as basic as nursery rhymes. When infants are learning to speak, the process by which they learn to speak and to sing begins in the same way. Exposing them to music in the womb means not only sharing a preference with your baby, but also allowing the baby to use the music as a way of connecting to the mother, based on a mutually enjoyable experience. 

 
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