As we continue through this new series, “The Benefits of Music from Baby to Big Kid,” you’ll discover how music boosts everything from memory and language skills to social cohesion. But what about before your child is even born? Can music actually get inside the womb and work its magic there?
The answer is, resoundingly (pun intended), yes! Research has shown that at around the 16th to 18th week of pregnancy, your baby hears their very first sound, and by 24 weeks, their ears are developing rapidly. From then on, unborn babies are more and more attentive to sounds, turning their heads in response to their mother’s voice, their native language, word patterns, and rhymes. If babies in the womb are recognizing language and rhymes, they must surely respond to music. And, according to music professor Dr. Ibrahim Baltagi speaking to Unicef, that’s absolutely correct: “In the third trimester, the baby will be definitely able to hear the music you play.” A 2013 study backs this up and goes further, showing that prenatal exposure to a melody—in the study’s case, “Twinkl Twinkle Little Star”—can have lasting neural effects and may benefit auditory processing in infancy and even enhance spacial learning ability.
So your baby is much more sensitive to sounds than you may have thought—yet more proof that the environment a pregnant mother creates around her before her baby is born is key in shaping a baby’s development. While of course it’s stressful to consider that everything you say and listen to and surround yourself with can potentially be impacting your baby—negatively or positively—let this new knowledge instead give you the freedom and permission to share beautiful sounds with your baby. Dr. Baltagi recommends classic baby-approved music: “Classical music, gentle sounds like lullabies, nice melodies that inspire happiness all are designed to be soothing. Slow, soft, repetitive music will actually slow down the heartbeat and allows for calmer and deeper breathing.” Baltagi is also a proponent of singing to your baby, which makes sense, since, as we now know, your baby can recognize a mother’s voice and this sound is familiar and calming to them.
But prenatal music-listening is not only beneficial for your unborn baby, potentially promoting neuroplasticity and eventual language learning; it’s also, of course, valuable for the mother. A 2015 study found that “if a mother is depressed, anxious, or stressed while pregnant, this increases the risk of her child having a wide range of adverse outcomes including emotional problems, symptoms of attention deficit disorder, or impaired cognitive development.” As we’ve discussed at length on the Musication blog, notably in “Music as Medicine: How Music Reduces Stress and Keeps You Calm,” as well as in “The Power of Music: Getting Through These Times with the Help & Healing of Music,” music is a powerful stress-reducer. Passive listening-in which you put on music and just allow yourself to hear it–is wonderful and can lower your cortisol levels and even reduce blood pressure. But if you want to get even more benefits—for yourself and your baby—then, sing! Singing basically acts as a deep breathing exercise, and if you’re a stressed expectant mother, this is just what you need: an activity that forces you to take a moment and breathe, be present, focus on your baby. And you can feel good about the incredible bonding that is taking place between you, bonding that will last and only get stronger.
So start refreshing yourself on those lullabies; dust off the classical records; do some scales; and create the most soothing, calming, positive, musical atmosphere. A happy, musical mom delivers a happy, musical baby.