Lullaby: Babies can remember melodies they hear in the womb even after they are born, according to new research
Babies can remember melodies they heard in the womb, according to a study.
Scientists played music to their mothers three weeks before birth and tested them one month after they were born.
The babies’ heart rates slowed at a greater rate when they heard the melody they had heard in the womb, compared to one they had not heard before.
The findings add to scientists’ understanding of the effects of what sounds are heard in the womb, including how babies learn to perceive speech.
Psychobiologist Carolyn Granier-Deferre, of Paris Descartes University, asked 50 heavily pregnant women to listen to a descending piano melody twice daily.
When the 50 babies were one month old, both the descending melody and an ascending nine-note piano melody were played to the infants while they slept.
On average, the heart rates of the sleeping babies briefly slowed by 12 beats a minute with the familiar descending melody, compared to five or six beats with the unfamiliar melody.
The results suggest that ‘newborns pay more attention to what may be their mother’s melodic sounds than they will to those of other women’, said Miss Granier-Deferre in the online journal, PLoS ONE.
Human hearing develops during the last three months of pregnancy. By five weeks before birth, the cochlea - the spiral-shaped part of the inner ear responsible for hearing - is usually mature.
These findings add to evidence suggesting that prenatal hearing can help infants perceive the sounds of speech.
Memories: Scientists played music to infants three weeks before birth and tested them a month after birth. They discovered the babies' heart rates slowed down when the familiar melody was heard. An unfamiliar song had much less of an effect
Ms Granier-Deferre added the findings do not mean pregnant women should play music to their developing offspring.
She said: 'When foetuses are old enough to hear fairly well, about four to five weeks before birth, they will be exposed to all the sounds of the maternal environment.
'There is no biological need for more auditory stimulation - more is not always better, especially during development.
'If mothers want to encourage music appreciation in their children, they can begin after the baby is born, when they can see and know what pleases or annoys, which she will never know from the behaviour of her foetus.'
Furthermore, devices that mothers put directly on their skin to play music may be harmful.
She said: 'This kind of stimulation can be harmful to the foetal ear if it is too loud or left on too long or applied too early during the inner ear development.'Now, if the mother wants to sing to her baby, why not? A mother's singing is a wonderful part of the natural sound environment.'