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Listening begins in the womb

🕑 3 minutes read
Posted July 14, 2017

At what gestational age is a baby able to hear the voice of their mother in the womb?

    1. 9 weeks
    2. 18-20 weeks
    3. 24-26 weeks
    4. 40 weeks

Answer: B. 18-20 weeks

Only a few hours after birth, a baby will turn her head in the direction of her mother’s voice indicating that she had been exposed to it before she was born.

The uterus is actually a noisy place for a baby. She can hear the sounds of her mother’s stomach growling, her heart beating, and air whooshing in and out of her lungs. Eventually, sounds of her mother’s voice can be heard clearly enough that she can recognize it right after birth. This early auditory experience has a profound influence on the child and her later development.

Research backs this up. Two studies underscore the importance of a mother’s voice to a baby:

One study demonstrated that by the seventh month of gestation a baby’s heart rate slows down slightly at the sound of her mother’s voice, an indication not only that she can hear it, but also that the sound is soothing to her.

A second study showed that, at just a day old, babies could learn to suck a pacifier in a specific way in order to hear a tape of their mother’s voice instead of the voice of an unfamiliar woman. This happened in a mere 10 to 20 minutes, underscoring the importance of mom’s voice and also a baby’s capacity to learn quickly, even at such a young age.

Certainly the developing baby can hear other voices from the womb, too. The fact that a baby is more attuned to the voice of their mother might be due to the fact that, in utero, she could hear her mother ambiently through the abdomen and also internally. The mother’s voice is carried along the vertebral column into her pelvis to the bones of the baby’s head and then directly into the baby’s inner ear. This is, in fact, bone conduction.

What does a mother’s voice sound like to a baby in the womb? Likely, it is muffled and low. Studies show babies prefer to hear a recording of their mother’s voice filtered to sound as it did in utero rather than how it sounds outside the womb.

The voice of the mother – not just what she says, but how she says it – conveys important information that guides a child’s behavior and learning. Research using functional MRI indicates that brain circuits, not only in the auditory pathway, but also in reward, emotion and face-processing areas are engaged in children by their mother’s voice and this brain activity predicts social communication abilities. As the authors put it, the voice of the mother “provides a neural fingerprint”of a child’s social communication abilities.

The relevance of a mother’s voice makes the use of the filtered mother’s voice a nice addition to the Activation Phase of a Focus program and also an excellent tool when using the VoicePro. The high reward value of the mother’s voice induces a listener to reach for the voice and to more actively attend to listening. Parents and children find that when the filtered voice of the mother is added to a program, it facilitates a deeper bond and connection with mother and the child becomes less anxious and more communicative.

For more information on using the voice of the mother in iLs programs, sign up for this updated webinar.

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