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Babies Listen and Learn While in the Womb

Building Blocks of Language continued...

Their findings appear in the journal Acta Paediatrica.

Speech pathologists like New York City’s Melissa Wexler Gurfein are excited about the findings. 

“Really what it is saying is that infants are learning and tuning into the speech patterns of their first exposed language(s) earlier than was originally thought,” she tells WebMD. “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. “

David Mendez, MD, says that the best thing that expectant moms can do for themselves and their baby is to maintain a stress- and chemical-free environment. He is a neonatologist at Miami Children's Hospital. “Talk to your baby as much as possible in a calm and relaxing way,” he says. Avoid screaming, yelling and other violent language.

The study is “fascinating,”says Amos Grunebaum, MD. He is the director of obstetrics at the New York Hospital-Cornell Weill Medical College in New York City. “People thought that newborns don’t learn until they are born, but this well-conceived study that shows that fetuses can learn while in utero,” he says. “We knew they could hear sounds, but we can teach fetuses.”

Natalie Meirowitz, MD, agrees that the study is fascinating, but she is concerned that some moms may take it to the extreme and start purchasing Rosetta Stone and other language tapes to give their baby a leg up. She is the chief of maternal and fetal medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

“We are learning a lot more about how sensitive the fetus is and how much influence stimuli coming from the mom have on the fetus,” she says. “We have known for a long time that fetuses hear outside noises and noises coming from the mother,” she says. But “I don’t think this means moms should get language tapes and teach children different languages while they are in the womb.”

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