Babies can hear and remember in the womb - study

A new study shows that babies may be able to hear in the womb.Photo / Thinkstock
A new study shows that babies may be able to hear in the womb.Photo / Thinkstock

Parents-to-be who talk and sing to their unborn baby might be giving them a head start when it comes to developing their child's language skills.

Finnish scientists said babies still in their mothers' wombs develop a memory of frequently-heard words.

Minna Huotilainen said a baby is not a blank slate when it enters the world and has already learned how his or her family members speak before being born.

She believes the research shows how well a baby's brain adapts to sounds at a very early stage in its life.

Professor Huotilainen, of the University of Helsinki, said: "It is a sign of very early language learning, or adaptation to the sounds they heard."

The research demonstrates that babies remember the sounds they heard in the womb, despite the fact that when they heard them as foetuses, their brains were still developing the connections that allow them to process any thoughts and external sensations, Medical Express reported.

There is already evidence to suggest that foetuses can learn and babies can recall songs or passes from books read to them before they were born.

In this study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers exposed Finnish unborn babies to one word - "tatata" - that does not have a meaning but follows the rules of the Finnish language.

Professor Huotilainen said the pseudo word was chosen because it has three syllables to make it difficult for babies to detect subtle changes within the word and give them something challenging to learn.

A total of 33 women took part in the study in the 29th week of their pregnancy until birth and half of them listened to recordings of the word "tatata" repeated hundreds of times.

However, sometimes the recorded voice pronounced it differently and even mixed in another pseudo word - "tatota".

Following the birth, researchers tested the activity of all the babies' brains when they heard the word, using scans

According to the study, those who had been exposed to the word in the womb "showed an enhanced reaction to this specific word" and were able to detect changes in the word better than babies who had not heard it before.

Professor Huotilainen believes the type of learning detected by the study happens in the later stages of pregnancy and that babies begin to hear sounds and words half way through pregnancy.

Responding to the study, Patricia Kuhl, a speech researcher from the University of Washington, said: "The fact that learning from frequently presented sounds occurs while infants are still in the womb means that language learning does not begin on day one at the moment of birth, but while the infant listens to sounds in utero. It's really quite amazing that the fetal brain has that capacity."

Professor Huotilainen said parents should be aware that foetuses can hear from the outside world and learn from it and advises them to speak to their unborn babies during pregnancy- or just to other people.

- DAILY MAIL

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