14w0d music in the womb

Your baby’s the size of a navel orange!

Your growing baby now measures about 4 inches long, crown to rump, and weighs in at about 2 1/2 ounces (about the size of an navel orange). She’s busy moving amniotic fluid through her nose and upper respiratory tract, which helps the primitive air sacs in her lungs begin to develop. Her legs are growing longer than her arms now, and she can move all of her joints and limbs. Although her eyelids are still fused shut, she can sense light. If you shine a flashlight at your tummy, for instance, she’s likely to move away from the beam! There’s not much for your baby to taste at this point, but she is forming taste buds.  You probably can’t feel it yet, but she’s squirming a ton!  Her joints and limbs can all move now. (Source: The Bump and BabyCenter)

I had an interesting conversation with one of my aunts last night on the benefits of classical music for fetal development.  For years, I’ve heard a web of anecdotal evidence from friends and family members (and literally, the web) that listening to classical music during pregnancy can boost your baby’s intelligence, creativity, and/or later mental development.  Although I’ve always been skeptical of these benefits, now that I’m pregnant with Baby Z, I’m starting to explore these claims a little more seriously since, you know, what mom wouldn’t want to give her kid a head start in life?   If our poor baby is already doomed to inherit J’s nose and my Hobbit feet, I may as well try my best to at least make Baby Z as smart as possible.

I started digging on the internet for research on music and pregnancy, and this is what I found:

Music and fetal development:

  • In essence, the jury is still out on music and fetal development.  According to BabyCenter:  “No one knows for sure. There are studies indicating that fetuses can hear and react to sound by moving. But no one really knows what those movements mean, since experts can’t observe an unborn baby as easily as they could one who is out of the womb.”
  • A few more cautious doctors suggest that an unborn baby’s physical reactions (heart rates, movements) to music may stem from discomfort rather than comfort. (Early Pregnant Tests)
  • However, new research supports what mothers have long believed, that babies in the womb hear what’s going on outside. Even more intriguing, there is evidence that babies may share in their mothers’ emotions.  In fact, from at least the 23rd week on, a preborn baby’s hearing is developed enough to enable him to respond to outside noise. Babies seem agitated by rock music, kicking violently when they hear it and are calmed by classical music. Even the five-month-old fetus has been found to have discriminating musical ears. In one study, kicking babies calmed to the sounds of Vivaldi but became agitated in response to Beethoven. (Ask Dr. Sears)

Music, stress and expectant mothers:

  • We don’t completely understand the effects of stress on pregnancy. But certain stress-related hormones may play a role in causing certain pregnancy complications. Serious or long-lasting stress may affect your immune system, which protects you from infection. This can increase the chances of getting an infection of the uterus. This type of infection can cause premature birth. (March of Dimes)
  • Some studies show that high levels of stress in pregnancy may cause certain problems [for your baby later on in life], like having trouble paying attention or being afraid. It’s possible that stress may also affect your baby’s brain development or immune system.  (March of Dimes)
  • Music may reduce the stress, anxiety, and depression that many pregnant women experience. A study of 236 pregnant women in Taiwan shows that the participants who listened to music for 30 minutes per day for two weeks significantly reduced their stress, anxiety, and depression, compared with participants who did not. (WebMD)

I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but even before I did the above research, I’ve already used our dog as a guinea pig to test the classical musical effect.  Every morning when J and I leave for work, we would set the stereo to softly play some light classical music for Henry.  Our poor dog has been listening to Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Vivaldi every Monday-Friday for the past two years.  Even sadder, I don’t think Henry is any smarter than he was two years ago (unless he was really, really, really dumb to begin with) so the Mozart effect has no bearing whatsoever on babies of the canine variety ;p  However, I must say that every time J and I turn out the classical music station, Henry now knows that we’re leaving him alone in the house…and gets really sad.  Aww.  But interestingly enough, he’s actually less anxious when we prepare him for our departure with classical music than if we just left the house without any warning, in which case he’d whine and howl.

Just call me Pavlov.

Anyway, I think the conclusion for this expectant mom on music and human baby development is:  while playing classical music may not make Baby Z smarter or turn him/her into a musical genius, music may play a role in soothing my emotions and stress levels, which in turn can have beneficial effects on Baby Z’s development.  (If that’s the case, Baby Z, whether you like or not, you’re in for a lot of 80’s soft rock and Broadway show tunes, because that’s what relaxes your Mom!  I apologize to you in advance.)

As for whether or not I’ll also be playing some Vivaldi and Mozart for Baby Z on occasion, I think…why not?  If Baby Z can hear what’s going on outside of my belly, it makes sense to me that by exposing him to some calming classical tunes while he’s in there may have the same calming effects on him when he’s out since it’ll provide him with familiar sounds and noises.  Plus, J and I (and we think Henry too) happen to like Vivaldi and Mozart too.  Our entire family can be soothed together!

Sidenote:  If you do decide to play music just for your unborn baby (via headphones or just a speaker near your belly), Baby Center experts suggest that:  “You should limit it to no more than an hour a day, since the music is up close and may overstimulate the baby.  Amniotic fluid is actually a good conductor of sound.  If you choose the stereo, don’t pump up the volume higher than 70 decibels — about as loud as background music at the store — because that may hurt or startle the baby, says Rosalie Pratt, a professor of music medicine at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.  Mozart’s symphonies are excellent, says Pratt, because they have the right mix of new sounds and repetition, which she believes babies may enjoy. But, she adds, most anything will do, as long as the music isn’t discordant like some of the rap, grunge, or hard rock songs played on today’s pop stations.”