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Health & Pregnancy

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Babies Listen and Learn While in the Womb

Building Blocks of Language continued...

Sorry, Dad. The father's voice cannot be heard in the womb, she says.

“Mothers shouldn't try putting earphones on their bellies and playing music because it's already noisy in there,” she says. “Learning the mother's voice and her vowels happens naturally as the mothers speak,” she says.

“Expectant moms should have confidence that their developing baby is making sense out of the sounds that she is providing for the baby,” says another study author, Christine Moon, PhD. She is a psychologist at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. “This is how we launch off into language.”

The sound of their mom’s voice is also associated with movement. “The mom moves when she talks, and her diaphragm is moving when she talks, and we think that this pairing may be useful and may help make the sound more salient."

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 New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center 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.”

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