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Can Babies Hear in the Womb?

April 24, 2023

The idea that a baby in the womb can hear and even learn has fascinated people for ages. The famous story from the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata, where Abhimanyu learns the art of war while in his mother's womb, is a testament to this fascination. But is there any truth or is it just a myth?

Research suggests that a foetus can indeed hear sounds in the later stages of pregnancy. At six weeks, a few cells from the brain are earmarked to form future ears and by nine weeks, the external ears begin to develop. Sonography done at 18 weeks can show the formation of external ears and by this time, the internal structures, including the laying of neuronal connections, start to develop.

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However, the sound that reaches the foetus is muffled as it travels through the amniotic sac, which is filled with amniotic fluid. While the foetus can hear the sound, it may not be clear enough to understand the words. Additionally, the baby is surrounded by sounds such as the gurgling of intestines and blood flowing through blood vessels.

The earliest response to sound was noted at 19 weeks and the first frequency that the foetus could hear was 500 HZ. By 27 weeks, almost all foetuses can take in frequencies between 250 to 500 Hz and higher frequencies were found to be heard by 35weeks.

While the foetus perceives sound and reacts to it by making movements and raising its heart beat, it is still unclear whether it recognizes the sound and retains it as a memory .In an interesting experiment, a group of pregnant women were played the melody of "twinkle twinkle little star" five times per week during their late pregnancy. Brain waves were captured from the foetuses when the music was played and the same music was played after birth and at four months of age. The analysis of the waveform suggested that the baby was able to recognize and memorize the sound.

However, it is important to note that even if the foetus retains the sound in its memory, it is still unclear whether it understands the meaning of the word. While very loud and continuous sound can interfere with hearing development, it depends on how loud the sound is, how close it is played to the womb and how long it is played.

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In conclusion, a foetus can hear sounds in the later stages of pregnancy and may even recognize and memorize them. However, it is still unclear whether the foetus understands the meaning of the sound and can learn something in the womb that it can apply later in life. Parents-to-be should remember that the sound may not be clear and the foetus may only perceive it as a familiar sound.

While the idea of a baby learning in the womb is fascinating, parents-to-be should not put too much pressure on themselves to provide a particular kind of learning experience for their unborn child. Instead, they can focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and emotional well-being during pregnancy, which can positively impact the foetus's development.

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