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Foetal music exposure 'has effect'

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Unborn babies remember music played to them in the womb long after birth, a study has found.

Many pregnant women play music for their babies in the belief that it might bring benefits. But until now it has been unclear what impact sound has on a foetus.

The new study involved women in a “learning group” playing a CD of the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star five times a week during the last three months of their pregnancy.

Soon after they had given birth, researchers measured the brain activity of their babies while playing the melody again. A similar test was carried out four months later.

Both after birth and at four months, infants from the learning group showed much greater brain activity in response to the music than a control group of babies who had not heard it before.

The difference between the two groups was only apparent when the original music was played, rather than a version with changed notes.

Dr Eino Partanen, from the University of Helsinki in Finland, said: “Even though we’ve previously shown 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.”

The research is published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.

In their paper the scientists speculate that unpleasant or noisy sounds heard in the womb might have adverse effects.

They wrote: “It seems plausible that the adverse pre-natal sound environment may also have long-lasting detrimental effects. Such environments may be, for example, noisy workplaces and, in the case of pre-term infants, neonatal intensive care units.”

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Readers' comments (2)

  • i think most mums could have told us this. My first came out the womb whistling the theme tune to Neighbours - well what else was i supposed to do on maternity leave except watch rubbish TV! And my youngest cheered up greatly every time he heard the theme tune to ITV This morning.

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  • Ah, I remember it well although I am now past retirement age - only my Mum used to sing

    'starkle, starkle lickle twink,
    I'm not all drunk as peepers tink,
    I'm not under the affluence of inkehol, though many peeples tink I am'

    (no not really my Mum was always as sober as a judge which obviously impacted on my life as I am the same)

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