Prenatal Learning - Does Learning Start In The Womb? Find Out How To Raise A Smart Baby, Including Reading To Your Belly

An expectant mother does everything she can to promote the health and well-being of her baby – she takes her prenatal vitamins, watches what she eats, and has regular check-ups. If she’s following along in her parenting books, she knows that during the second trimester, her developing baby begins to recognize sounds. Should parents-to-be read and talk and sing to their developing baby, or is it just a waste of time? Find out what new research shows about prenatal learning.
Mary Fetzer

Much controversy has surrounded the significance of baby’s early ability to hear. Many parents talk to or play music for their baby, but some experts suggest that these techniques are not particularly useful. It’s the constant beat of the mother’s heart that the baby is most in tune with – the baby’s natural language.

Breaking news
A new study by the Institute for Psychology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation of the University of Amsterdam sheds light on what sounds the baby can actually recognize in-utero. The research suggests that spoken words are muffled by the amniotic fluid and music is too complex. Instead, the developing baby is most able to recognize a simple beat. The findings suggest that babies recognize beats as early as three months before birth.

The learning process
The first stage of learning was thought to begin at birth and last until age 2. This latest research, however, confirms that learning – the baby’s ability to perceive and remember beats – actually begins in the womb.

“It is not simply the age of ‘zero to three’ that is so crucial to enrich during a child’s development,” says pediatrician Liz Moore, MD. “It is truly the ‘prenatal to three’ timeframe that is the most ideal opportunity to enrich a child’s environment as it pertains to long-term development.”

The researchers measured the brain signals of two- and three-day old newborns. Basic rock rhythms were played through adhesive earphones worn by the newborns. When the rhythm changed to miss the downbeat, the babies’ brains displayed a response that indicated they had expected to hear the missing beat.

What it means
According to the study, “it appears that the capability of detecting beat in rhythmic sound sequences is already functional at birth.” Simple sounds like those similar to the mother’s heartbeat are easiest for the unborn child to understand, and may possibly be innate.

“Age appropriate rhythm and tones introduce a child to basic perceptual and reasoning principles, such as comparison, contrast, repetition and alternation,” says Moore. “These comprise our first learning. When introduced prenatally, developmental processes are strengthened for the lifetime of the child.”

What expecting parents can do
Lisa Jarrett, mother of seven, is the president of BabyPlus Prenatal, LLC. BabyPlus ( is an education system that introduces patterns of sound to babies-to-be. BabyPlus developers believe that a baby’s natural language is the maternal heartbeat, and uses similar simple sounds to promote learning while still in the womb.

The BabyPlus curriculum uses sounds resembling a mother’s heartbeat to introduce babies to a learning process. Called “auditory exercise,” BabyPlus claims to “strengthen learning ability during the developmental period when the advantages will be most significant and enduring for a child.” The lessons are designed for two one-hour sessions per day, beginning at around 18 weeks of pregnancy. The BabyPlus system has been available since 1989 – more than 150,000 parents in more than 60 countries have embraced it – and this most current research will like increase the demand for this type of product.

Nonetheless, even if studies suggest that talking and music don’t enhance a baby’s ability to learn, these actions do promote bonding. “Newborns most definitely enjoy and respond to the sounds of familiar voices, particularly those of a parent,” says Jarrett. “They look directly at the voice source, smile, move about and show pleasure when cooed or spoken to. Continue to communicate with your baby-to-be in every language.

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