Babies Can Hear in Utero

  • January 19, 2015

New research suggests that in normal fetal development, babies begin to absorb language when they are inside the womb during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy. Newborns can actually tell the difference between their mother’s native tongue and foreign languages just hours after they are born.

How can researchers tell?

Dr.Kuhl of Seattle and colleagues used a high-tech pacifier that was connected to a computer that measured infants’ reactions to sounds. The study included 80 infants who were, on average, about 30 hours old. They were exposed to vowel sounds in their mother’s native language and in a foreign tongue, while sucking on the pacifier.

The loudest units of speech are vowels. The number of times they suck on the pacifier indicates which vowel sounds attracted their attention. The study showed that babies sucked longer when listening to foreign languages than when they were listening to their native tongue.

Sorry dad, but the father’s voice cannot be heard in the womb.

Infants are learning the speech patterns of their first exposed language(s) earlier than was originally thought. This may suggest the importance of the mother not only to talk during the last trimester of pregnancy, but to continue to talk to her newborn from the moment of birth to help facilitate language development.

The sound of mom’s voice is also associated with movement. The authors claim that the movement of the mother’s diaphragm coupled with the sound of her voice when she talks may work in tandem, and may help make the sound more salient.

The best thing that expectant moms can do for proper fetal development is to maintain a chemical and stress free environment. Talk to your baby as much as possible in a calm and relaxing way. Avoid screaming, yelling and other violent language.

It was once thought that newborns don’t learn until they are born, but well-conceived studies shows that normal fetal development may include the ability of fetuses to learn while in utero. Pretty amazing!

Findings appear in the journal Acta Paediatrica.