Many expecting parents play music for their baby during pregnancy with the hope of fostering early brain development. According to a new study at the University of Helsinki, these parents might be onto something. It turns out that playing music during pregnancy might have an effect on your child’s auditory system.
New research, published by Eino Partanen in the PLOS ONE journal, shows that exposure to music before birth can indeed influence a child’s long-term memory. The researchers asked pregnant moms in the last trimester of their pregnancy to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” fives times each week. Another group of pregnant mothers was asked to play no music during their last trimester.
Immediately after the babies were born, and again at four months of age, infants were played two recordings of the song to determine if any learning occurred. One was the original melody and the other was a modified melody with some altered notes. Researchers found the highest levels of brain activity in children listening to the original, unchanged melody that they heard in utero. This result was consistent through the last observation period at four months of age.
While past studies indicate that fetuses are capable of learning minor speech patterns, this research shows that brain development may be influenced by prenatal exposure to music. It also demonstrates that babies are capable of retaining what they learn at a very early age for a relatively long time.
Even with this new information, you should check with your healthcare provider before strapping earphones to your pregnant belly. The auditory system goes through a critical period of development from 27 weeks of gestation through six months of age. Music that is too loud or left on too long could damage your baby’s developing inner ear. Ambient music and singing to your baby should do the trick.