Everyone knows I love to give books as baby gifts. It’s just what I do. What I didn’t realize until recently is that mothers love receiving these books, and not just because they are a great start to a library for their future little ones. Instead, these mothers happily read to their babies as they are developing in their bellies, and are eager to read the same stories over and over, noting this will help the baby after he or she is born. Could this really be the case? Once the baby is born, will it really be able to remember the stories it was read prior to birth and show preference to these?

There has been much debate over whether babies can truly interpret audial stimulation prior to birth, or if it is just something that they experience and move on from immediately after. Studies have indicated, however, that babies are not only capable of interpreting the sounds they here prior to birth, but of remembering them as well. This has been demonstrated through research utilizing both music and voice stimulation prior to birth and evaluation after. In these studies fetuses were exposed to specific songs and reading passages throughout the last several months of pregnancy. After birth the babies were exposed to both the familiar passages and music, and unfamiliar passages and music. To ensure equality in the stimulation, mothers were asked to read both the familiar and unfamiliar passages to eliminate the possibility of the baby responding to his mother’s voice as opposed to the actual passage.

In nearly all circumstances babies showed strong indications of recognition when exposed to the familiar passages and music. Heart rhythm and breathing patterns changed, and the babies turned toward the sound of the familiar stimulation. Many babies calmed immediately upon hearing the familiar sounds. In the vast majority of cases, babies showed attention for much longer when exposed to familiar passages and music. Conclusions were drawn that fetuses are able to develop memories of the stories they are read or songs they are sung prior to birth, and will show preference to these after they are born. Some researchers believe this is an indication of early language development capability and contend babies who are read to prior to birth will be better primed to acquire and master language skills, both in terms of communication and the ability to read.

Source: Hepper, P.G. Newborn and fetal response to maternal voice, Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, Volume 11, Issue 3, 1993.