Babies learn first lullabies in the womb

Babies learn first lullabies in the womb

Playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" prompted a flurry of activity in the brains of infants whose mothers had regularly listened to the song during pregnancy, researchers reported.

The findings suggest that foetuses are capable of forming memories of sounds from the outside world, and recognising them at least four months after birth.

Because babies' brains are thought to process song and speech in the same way, playing music to an unborn child could help lay the foundations for the development of speech, researchers said.

The scientists, from the University of Helsinki, recruited 24 volunteers in their final trimester and asked half to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to their bump on five days each week for the final stage of their pregnancy.

Immediately after birth and four months later, non-invasive scans revealed that the brains of babies who had been played the song in the womb reacted more strongly to the melody than those who had not.

The results, published in the PLOS ONE journal, were the first to track how long memories formed by foetuses remain in the brain after birth.

Eino Partanen, a graduate student who led the study, said: "Even though our earlier research indicated that foetuses could learn minor details of speech, we did not know how long they could retain the information.

"These results show that babies are capable of learning at a very young age, and that the effects of the learning remain apparent in the brain for a long time."

Dr Minna Huotilainen, principal investigator, added: "The results are significant, as studying the responses in the brain let us focus on the foundations of fetal memory. The early mechanisms of memory are currently unknown."

A further study, which is currently under way at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, will focus on whether stressful noises, for example those in loud workplaces, could have a harmful effect on babies' development during the final trimester.

By Nick Collins

The Telegraph, 30th October 2013

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