Unborn babies are hearing you, loud and clear - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Unborn babies are hearing you, loud and clear

Posted: Updated:
Meghan Holohan NBC News

Expectant moms who coo and chat to their babies while they're pregnant may be doing more than stimulating the fetus – they may be shaping their child's brain, according to research published Monday.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reinforces what many people had believed—babies hear what their moms say and their brains recognize these words after birth.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland looked at 33 moms-to-be, and examined their babies after birth. While pregnant, 17 mothers listened at a loud volume to a CD with two, four minute sequences of made-up words ("tatata" or "tatota", said several different ways and with different pitches) from week 29 until birth.

The moms and babies heard the nonsense words about 50 to 71 times. Following birth, the researchers tested the all 33 babies for normal hearing and then performed an EEG (electroencephalograph) brain scan to see if the newborns responded differently to the made-up words and different pitches.

Babies who listened to the CD in utero recognized the made-up words and noticed the pitch changes, which the infants who did not hear the CD did not, the researchers found. They could tell because their brain activity picked up when those words were played, while babies who didn't hear the CD in the womb did not react as much.

"We have known that fetuses can learn certain sounds from their environment during pregnancy," Eino Partanen, a doctoral student and lead author on the paper, said via email.

"We can now very easily assess the effects of fetal learning on a very detailed level—like in our study, [we] look at the learning effects to very small changes in the middle of a word."

This paper does more than simply find that babies in utero can hear; it shows that babies can detect subtle changes and process complex information.

"Interestingly, this prenatal exposure also helped the newborns to detect changes which they were not exposed to: the infants who have received additional prenatal stimulation could also detect loudness changes in pseudo words but the unexposed infants could not," Partanen says.

"However, both groups did have responses to vowel changes (which are very common in Finnish, and which newborns have been many time previously been shown to be capable of)."

These findings build on other research conducted over the past 20 years that looks at how babies respond to sound. Minna Huotilainen, who also worked on the study, published a study in 2005 showing that fetuses can discriminate among sounds. And, in 1988 researchers found that babies who heard soap operas in utero became addicted—at least to the melodies. Babies with moms who watched soaps while they were pregnant responded to the melodic cues in the shows. 

The finding support the idea that an unborn fetus can learn and remember just as well as a newborn, the researchers said. It may be worthwhile to expose babies to more sounds before they are even born.

"The better we know how the fetus' brain works, the more we'll know [about] early development of language," Partanen says. "If we know better how language develops very early, we may one day be able to develop very early interventions [for babies with abnormal development]."

  • NewsMore>>

  • Tony Stewart back at the track, looking to heal

    Tony Stewart back at the track, looking to heal

    Saturday, August 30 2014 12:20 AM EDT2014-08-30 04:20:07 GMT
    Tony Stewart should be back in his comfort zone at a NASCAR track, ready for racing.More
    Tony Stewart took his seat on the podium - unshaven, his eyes glassy - and unfolded a sheet of paper. His voice quivered as he read, pausing to maintain his composure as he described the death of a driver he hit as "one of...More
  • Grundy Co. Yellow Jackets Marching Band

    Grundy Co. Yellow Jackets Marching Band

    Friday, August 29 2014 11:34 PM EDT2014-08-30 03:34:57 GMT
    The Grundy County High School Band's Director says, "for a little band, they can make a good bit of noise!" To Yellow Jackets faithful and band aficionados, it is sweet music. They serenade us with Rocky Top and are our Band of the Week!More
    The Grundy County High School Band's Director says, "for a little band, they can make a good bit of noise!" To Yellow Jackets faithful and band aficionados, it is sweet music. They serenade us with Rocky Top and are our Band of the Week!More
  • UPDATE: Man killed while mowing grass when truck hit him; 3 teens inside truck also died

    UPDATE: Man killed while mowing grass when truck hit him; 3 teens inside truck also died

    Friday, August 29 2014 11:22 PM EDT2014-08-30 03:22:40 GMT
    4 teens inside truck that killed man on his lawn mower; Pinson only survivor4 teens inside truck that killed man on his lawn mower; Pinson only survivor
    Four teens were inside a vehicle that hit and killed 57-year-old Bryan Bartley while he was mowing grass on Thursday evening. Three teens also died in the tragedy. Alexis Pinson survived the crash and is improving, friends say. More
    Four teens were inside a vehicle that hit and killed 57-year-old Bryan Bartley while he was mowing grass on Thursday evening. Three teens also died in the tragedy. Alexis Pinson survived the crash and is improving, friends say. More
Powered by WorldNow
Can't find what you're looking for?

WRCB-TV
900 Whitehall Road
Chattanooga, TN 37405
(423) 267-5412

WRCB Jobs EEO | FCC Public Files

Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and WRCB. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.