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What's It Like in the Womb?

What's it Like in the Womb?

Finding the Edge

When Kurt and Cathy Meyer of Fishers, Ind., were expecting their daughter, who was born almost a year ago, they did everything they could to give Marie a running start. They read to her. They talked to her. They even researched all the different prenatal stimulation products on the market.

They settled on BabyPlus, a "cardiac curriculum" developed by Seattle developmental psychologist Brent Logan. The 16-tape series of audio tapes deliver sonic patterns to stimulate the fetus' nervous system and exercise its developing brain.

"We were looking for every possible competitive edge for our child," says Kurt Meyer. "From a parent's perspective, if you deprive your child of any opportunity to learn, you haven't done your job."

It's hard to prove the effect BabyPlus had on Marie. But the couple is convinced the prenatal stimulation allowed her to sleep better after birth and reach developmental milestones, like saying words and understanding when others spoke to her, faster.

"We have a lady who watches her three days a week, a mother of two who watches three other children about the same age as Marie, and almost a week doesn't go by when she hasn't told us that Marie is doing something, where the other kids aren't quite there yet," says Meyer, who owns a commercial real estate company.

The BabyPlus system consists of a belt with two tiny speakers fastened onto the mother's abdomen for two one-hour periods per day over 16 weeks in the second trimester. The series of tapes features an imitation of the mother's heartbeat, only the rhythms get progressively more complicated and faster with each tape. The cost of the system is $180.

"Since we knew the mother's blood pulse is serving as the fetus' most elementary instruction, why not create a more intelligent heart, an orchestrated heart, that would be able to provide successive progressions of schooling?" Logan says.

He says stimulating additional brain connections early is particularly important since a significant portion of brain cells naturally die off in the later stage of pregnancy. "Like exercising a muscle, by getting the fetal brain to oscillate faster at more mature rhythms, you're able to lock into place a more mature brain," he says.

But Fifer and other experts say there's no scientific data supporting these claims and worry that fiddling with this timing by amplifying sound with speakers or headphones into the womb could be disruptive to your baby's sleep patterns, and even harmful. For most of the pregnancy, your baby sleeps about 95 percent of the time, even as you feel it moving or hiccupping.

He also worries the stimuli could confound the timing of brain development established through years of evolution. "The message is that it's not a good thing to lose these extra brain cells, when in fact that's how nature programs things ... to make room for the connections and wiring that turn a brain into a mind," says Fifer.

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