A fetus can’t yet sympathize with heartfelt lyrics or follow a gripping bedtime story, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits.
In fact, many studies show what mothers have known all along: Your baby can hear you and seemingly “remember” noise patterns after birth.
In addition, although a mother can feel a baby’s movements and experience her growing, it may be difficult for parenthood to feel “real” for the other partner until she’s born. Reading, singing and talking to your baby not only helps you connect with her, but it also gives an opportunity for your partner to finally bond as well.
In this post, we’re outlining what the research says about reading, talking and playing music for your baby. Then, to help you create your own experience, we provide bonding suggestions.
When Can Baby Hear Dad in Womb?
Hearing is one of the baby’s earliest senses. A baby starts to hear around 18 weeks of gestation; however, sounds become more audible around 24 weeks. At this point, she can hear bodily sounds, such as your heartbeat or breathing. If you’re wondering when she can begin to hear outside noises, such as the dad’s voice, that will happen around 25 to 27 weeks. Around 28 weeks, you may notice your baby starts responding to your voice with an increased heart rate or movement.
Is Loud Noise During Pregnancy Harmful?
Remember that your baby is protected by your belly and surrounded by amniotic fluid. Because of this, sounds are muffled and low-frequency. That means what you hear is significantly less intense for your baby.
A professor at Penn State University describes the sound a baby hears as similar to Charlie Brown’s teacher—a low, muted trumpet-like noise. That means that while your baby can’t hear the exact tone of your beautiful voice, she can pick up on rhythms and patterns.
Experts haven’t identified a specific noise level that is harmful to the fetus. Infrequent bursts of loud noises (such as walking by a construction site) are unlikely to harm your baby. However, you may want to reconsider your environment if you’re constantly being exposed to it. For example, if you work with loud machines, trucks or music, it may increase the risk of baby hearing problems. With that being said, even if a baby develops a hearing issue, doctors can’t always determine if it was caused by loud noise or something else. A possibility could be that loud noise causes stress and stress affects the baby (rather than noise directly harming the baby)
Precautions you can take include:
- Asking your supervisor for less noisy working environment options for the duration of your pregnancy
- Wearing earplugs to prevent yourself from noise-induced stress
- Moving away from the source of noise and avoiding any vibrations
- Removing yourself from crowds/parties that are too noisy for you
- Playing music for your baby at a normal level
- Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about noise levels in your environment
Although it can be a powerful bonding experience, if you choose not to talk, sing or read to your baby during pregnancy, it shouldn’t affect their development.
Talking to Your Fetus
Talking to your fetus when she makes a movement or just to check-in probably feels normal. But when you’re trying to communicate more frequently, finding things to speak about and having a one-sided conversation may feel awkward. That’s why we’ve provided you with some inspiration below.
Studies on Talking to Your Baby Inside the Womb
While your baby can’t understand your words, research indicates that talking to her in the womb gives her a preference for that language once she’s born. For example, one study showed that babies as young as two days prefer the language their mother spoke during pregnancy—even when that language is spoken by someone else. So, what if you’re bilingual? Exposing a fetus to both languages may predispose her to learn both once she’s born.
While a fetus can still hear a father talking, a mother’s voice has more effect since her vocal cords can carry the vibration through body tissue.
What Should I Say to My Baby?
Since your baby doesn’t understand words, talking about anything is fine. Here are some suggestions:
- Give her a roundup of your day
- Start verbalizing your thoughts, AKA talking to yourself (for example, “should we have chicken or beef tonight for dinner? I’m in the mood for something quick”)
- Try voicing your concerns, as if you’re speaking to a friend (for example, “I felt really stressed today at work and I’m worried this promotion will be too much to handle right now)
- If you usually write in a journal, try voicing it to your baby instead
- Introduce her to family and friends when they’re around
- Tell your baby about someone special in your life (their sibling, grandparent, or a loved one passed on)
- Tell her how much you love her and your hopes and dreams for her
Reading Stories to Your Feus
Bedtime stories aren’t just for newborns and children. A baby inside the womb can still experience benefits from hearing you read.
Studies on Reading to a Fetus
Because research suggests that learning language starts before birth, reading is another excellent way to prime your fetus to your voice. In addition, a 2018 study found that mothers who connect to their fetus are more likely to have positive interactions with them after birth, improving their ability to learn and develop. Taking time to read to your baby and sense any movements can increase bonding.
When you read a story to a child, you probably fluctuate your voice to help bring the story to life. However, that effort may not be necessary when reading to your unborn baby. There’s also no evidence to suggest that the content you read your fetus matters. In fact, she probably can’t tell the difference between you reading a storybook and talking regularly. With that being said, if you have nothing to talk to your baby about, reading is a good way to allow her to hear from you.
Stories to Read to Your Unborn Baby
Although the type of content you read probably doesn’t matter, here are some ideas to get you started:
- If you sit down with the morning newspaper, read an article out loud to your baby
- Whenever you read a novel, share portions of it with your bundle of joy
- Make your pregnancy/parenting research into a bonding experience by verbalizing what you’re reading
- Buy some storybooks ahead of time to read both before and after birth (see if your baby develops a preference to the ones you read to her before birth)
- Get family members to write messages to your baby and read them to her
Playing Music for Your Baby
Music can speak our thoughts during a period of depression or get us amped up for a night out. While it doesn’t mean the same thing to your baby yet, a good tune (or just about any) can help mentally stimulate her.
Studies on Music and the Fetus
As we’ve discussed, although babies can’t understand lyrics, they hear rhythm—which makes music a great choice. Some people may intuitively think that classical music will soothe a fetus best; however, studies show that different genres can have a similar effect. In fact, a 2018 study by a fertility clinic in Spain found that fetuses showed mental stimulation to both Mozart and rock artist Freddie Mercury. However, they seemed to respond less to songs by Shakira and the Bee Gees. What can explain the difference? One theory is that babies like certain pitches and simple melodies.
A 2013 study found that prenatal exposure to music can have long-term effects on the baby. It may help improve brain development and enhance responsiveness to the music listened to during pregnancy. These benefits can last at least up to 4 months without any additional “music sessions.”
Music for Pregnancy Brain Development
According to the 2018 study of 300 fetuses, here are their most-loved tunes:
- “A Little Night Music” by Mozart (91% of fetuses showed mouth movements and 73% stuck out their tongues)
- Songs by Bach, Prokofiev and Strauss (these songs also caused mouth movement in about 80% of babies)
- Traditional African drumbeats, Indian mantras and Christmas carols (80% of fetuses responded to these)
- “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (90% of fetuses moved their mouths and 40% stuck their tongues out)
- “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People (the distinct beat may be a factor in their preference)
Research suggests that talking, playing music and reading to your baby can have multiple benefits. Newborns show preference to their mother’s native language, suggesting that they begin learning it in the womb. Listening to music also helps mentally stimulate a fetus and may improve brain development. At the very least, sharing a safe-level of noise with your baby can help increase bonding between you and the entire family.
Do you talk or play music for your baby? Comment your suggestions below! If you have any pregnant friends, share this post to help them bond with their baby, too!
P.S. Another great way to bond with your baby is to use a fetal doppler. These handheld devices allow you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat while she’s still in the womb—similar to an ultrasound. Pretty amazing, right? Get yours for as low as $19.95 today!