In the months leading up to his birth, your baby is hard at work forging important physical and cognitive skills, and developing actively. So what exactly do babies learn before they are born?
WORDS CHERYLENE RENEE
As they say, you’re never too old and it’s never too late to learn something new, but is it possible to ever be too young to learn? It might be a common assumption that your young ones typically embark on their learning journey during their first year of life, in which they slowly grasp the ability to talk, crawl, and comprehend things. For the longest time, scientists and doctors held on to the notion that babies were born with a mental blank slate. Recent research, however, is quickly displacing that belief with a new one – that babies start learning even while they are still in their mother’s cosy womb.
Yes, Your Baby Can Hear You
If you ever thought that the womb acts like the vacuum of deep space, where sound doesn’t travel and your baby can’t hear you, then you thought wrong. On the contrary, the womb is a vibrant conductor of sands – your baby hears almost everything that’s going on inside your body, and out. Your little one can clearly hear your heart beating, or if some gas is fighting its way out of your intestines. Things that are happening on the outside may be a tad muffled, but babies can hear them just the same – whether you’re at a lively dinner party or singing a sweet lullaby to him. Your little one is eavesdropping on you and in doing so, he is learning and absorbing as much information as he can.
Mum’s the Word
The womb acts as an ambient room of sorts, carrying sounds from the inner workings of your body, your voice, and the symphony of sounds around you. Renowned guru Deepak Chopra explains this beautifully in his book, Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. “Your nervous system anchors your emotional well-being to the vibration of the sound… [and] the rhythm and pitch of human voices are clearly perceptible in the womb.”
The amazing, lifelong connection between mother and child begins so early in the child’s life, as a foetus, due to neuro-associative conditioning.
Even if a child learns nothing else, he will learn one thing –
and that is the sound of his mother’s voice. It is a soothing sound
that he hears so often, speaking, singing, and reading to him,
or whilst she is in conversation with others.
You are communicating with your baby every single day even before he is born, already creating a strong auditory bond. Research shows that a foetus’s heart rate magically slows down whenever his mother speaks – especially so during the seventh and eighth month of pregnancy. It is apparent then, that mum’s voice has an intrinsic calming effect on the little one growing inside her. Your voice also plays an important role in your little one’s growth and development inside the womb. Even after a baby emerges from the womb, the sound of his mother’s voice continues to be a source of comfort for a long time to come.
Developing Language Skills
Your baby’s brain starts to grow when he’s only five weeks, and this is also when he starts to form his first memories and cognitive abilities. Your little one’s brain continues to develop at breakneck speed while in the womb, and it is during your third trimester that the sound-processing receptors in his brain become especially active.
Foetuses learn almost entirely through audio-sensory stimulation,
so reading to your baby during your pregnancy is especially powerful.
Doing so on a regular basis can effectively drive the early development
of your child’s cognitive and literary skills.
One particular U.S. based study done by Patricia Kuhl, Ph.D., of the Bezos Family Foundation and a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, discovered that foetuses not only hear their mother’s voice but are also able to grasp more complex concepts. Your little ones pick up on intonation, and what they hear forms the foundational basis of learning a language – the true origin of baby babble! The study showed that newborns are incredibly able to clearly distinguish between their mother’s native language and a foreign tongue. Another research finding published in the scientific journal, Infant Behavior and Development stated that newborns actually recognise nursery rhymes read to them while still in their mother’s belly. Babies even become familiar with rhythm, speech patterns, and melody contours of rhymes and stories while in the womb – and will amazingly respond to the same sounds as a newborn.
Learning Through Movement
You might also begin to realise that some of your baby’s kicks are actually in response to sounds heard in the outside world. These movements are grounded in purpose, though, as each kick or nudge aids in strengthening your baby’s physical motor functions. Your baby – while still in utero – is learning how to interact with sound through movement. And move he will – he fiddles around with pretty much every inch of your uterus, nudging the uterine walls with his hands and feet. Researchers believe that this activity is one of instinct, eventually finding use when he wants to push his way up to mum’s breast after birth. Foetuses also spend a great deal of time touching their own faces and sucking on their hands and fingers – which is why sucking brings a great deal of comfort to newborn babies.
It is believed that babies learn through three ways in the womb. He learns by experiences, through familiar sounds and voices. He learns by repetition when he hears the same sounds over and over and becomes accustomed to it even after birth. Lastly, he learns by association, connecting experiences to feelings or emotions, even those felt by his mother. Your little one isn’t just sitting around waiting to come into this world – he is hard at work forging important physical and cognitive skills, and developing actively in your swelling belly in the weeks and days leading up to his birth. And the massive amount of learning he’s done is just one more thing to be proud of when you finally hold your baby in your arms for the first time.