Infants Remember Music They Heard Before They Were Born!

Do you talk or sing to your unborn baby? Did you know that starting around the third trimester a fetus can hear not only your voice, but other voices and sounds from outside the womb? Researchers at Paris Descartes University, in France, published a study earlier this year that confirms 1-month-old babies can actually remember music that was played to them during the last part of their mothers’ pregnancies.

These findings support a story included in the book The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, by Dr. Thomas Verny, in which world famous conductor Boris Brott says he recognized music his mother, a viola player, had practiced while she was pregnant with him. Incredible.

The scientists conducting the recent study played a distinctive 9-note piano melody to 25 fetuses twice a day during their 35th, 36th, and 37th weeks of gestation and then followed up when the babies were all a month old. When these infants heard the familiar melody, their heart rates decreased by a significant 12 beats per minute,  more than twice that of the control subjects – a sign that the sounds soothed the babies who recognized them. Researchers previously thought infants could retain prenatal memories for no longer than 3 or 4 days, but this study extends that interval to a whopping six weeks.

I’ve heard before that newborns are able to recognize their mothers’ and sometimes fathers’ voices when they’re only a few hours old, but this the first time I’ve seen research about their ability to remember music they’d only heard in utero. Makes you think twice about cranking up Rage Against the Machine, eh?

Lead researcher Dr. Carolyn Granier-Deferre said her team’s findings do not necessarily mean pregnant women should play music to their unborn children (“There is no biological need for more auditory stimulation – more is not always better, especially during development”), but I’m sure rocking out (gently!) to your favorite song now and then doesn’t hurt either.

Read more details from or the original study at PLoS ONE.

What’s your fetus been listening to these days?