Why it’s important to baby talk your child before birth
The sweetest sound a child can ever hear is the sound of its mother’s voice. It’s long been known that babies can recognize and prefer the sound of their mothers’ voices over the voices of others. It’s also been shown that babies can make this differentiation while still in the womb. Researchers at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada found that when in utero babies were played a recording of a poem being read by their mothers, their heart rates accelerated. When a recording of the same poem being read by a pregnant mother who was not their own was played, their heart rates decelerated. According to researchers, deceleration of the heart rate is an “attention mechanism”, signaling that the babies in the womb were paying closer attention to the stranger’s voice in an attempt to figure out who was speaking. The excited heart rate that babies in the womb experience when their mothers speak versus the much more subdued reaction to the voices of others is convincing evidence that babies can distinguish between the voices they hear regularly and those they do not.
This ability to distinguish between voices happens shortly after the fetus develops the ability to hear sound at around 16 weeks. This same research has shown that 87% of babies in utero between 14 and 39 weeks respond directly to music that is played to them, even moving their mouths and tongues as if to sing along or shape the words they’re hearing. This phenomenon has led researchers to a strong conclusion that a baby’s language development begins long before it’s born. In fact, scientists now believe that babies who are talked to regularly by their mothers while still in the womb show a greater improvement in hearing and language skills later in life.
A study from Harvard Medical School is beginning to explain why babies are able to recognize certain elements of language from birth and why it’s the mother’s voice that’s a crucial part of that development process. Forty infants born prematurely between 25 and 32 weeks into their gestation were divided into two groups. The first group was played a recording of their mothers’ voices and heartbeats for three hours each day, recreating what they would have heard more often if still in the womb. The second group was exposed to only routine hospital background noise. After 30 days, brain scans of the infants who listened to their mothers’ voices showed they had a significantly larger auditory cortex than the babies that were exposed to ambient hospital sounds. Researchers said the results were strong evidence that the fetal brain is much more responsive to womb-like maternal sounds and the mother’s voice when it comes to hearing and language development than anything else, including random voices and atmospheric noise.
These dramatic findings are helping more doctors encourage mothers to regularly talk and sing to their babies long before they’re born. It’s also helping neonatal units create intervention methods to help premature babies continue to develop at pace when they’re kept in the hospital for weeks and spend large amounts of time away from their mothers.
When was the last time you told your awaited baby how much you love him or her, or read them a story? Start loving and interacting that child as if he was here right now because in many ways that really matter, he already is.
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