Bonding with your bump helps your baby learn
Hello in there
Why talk to your baby before birth?
Talking to your bump is one of the best ways to bond with your baby. Discover from foetal learning expert, Dr Eino Partanen, how your voice soothes your baby, and helps them with their cognitive and emotional development long into childhood.
This article is part of a series in which we explore the benefits of talking to your bump. Learn more about how hearing your voice in the womb can affect your baby’s future language development through our Hello In There articles, videos and expert discussions.
Brighter futures start here
Discover more about infant development to help shape your baby's future
For nine months your baby develops in your womb, changing and growing day-by-day. At about 25–26 weeks of pregnancy your little one starts to react to sounds, although many of these sounds you may not be conscious of, such as your beating heart, air moving in and out of your lungs, and even your rumbling stomach1. As your baby grows, the sounds in the womb and from the outside start to form an auditory home for the baby, and gradually babies begin to respond and react to these sounds.
As your bump grows there is nothing more satisfying than feeling a kick or a nudge as the baby inside you responds to the sound of your voice. Hearing your voice in the womb can help your baby feel attached to you. Not only can it help with the bonding process, but when you talk to your bump – or to other friends or family members, your baby hears you and takes the first steps to learn your language.
Baby banter – talking to your bump
Even before children utter their first words, listening to language alters their perception of speech sounds2. Although at birth the effects are small and subtle, after six months babies begin to show clear preference for language3. However, learning a language starts much earlier 4,5.
Speech and language stimulate your bump – During development in utero (inside the womb) the brain undergoes changes,3 which can be influenced to some degree by what it is exposed to. Your baby not only begins to learn a language and its nuances6, but learns the specific characteristic of your voice7, helping you to recognize each other after birth.
It helps encourage bonding
Talking to your bump can help build a connection between parents and baby. This bond is often referred to as attachment and if the baby has bonded with its parents, or knows that its parents are there to care for their well-being, the baby can focus its energy on play and exploration. The regular voices your baby hears in utero become familiar and, after birth, a newborn recognises and orientates to them7. This helps the baby to recognise familiar and safe environments and know its parents are present, to provide care.
Mum’s the word
While a mother’s voice is not the first sensory experience a baby has within the womb, it is the most prominent sound and the maternal voice plays a direct role in hearing and language development. Studies demonstrate that a baby’s heart rate slows in the womb on hearing their mother’s voice8, suggesting a calming effect; furthermore, a mother’s voice seems to calm and soothe a newborn baby as well.9 This soothing and calming effect is thought to result from recognition/learning of her voice through repeated exposure in the womb.7 The mother’s voice can serve as a bridge to help the baby and the parent interact, and the baby can latch onto familiar features of the mother’s voice to learn something new in the interaction.
Love your bump - bonding with your baby
Pregnancy can be a daunting time. Many mums worry that they won’t feel an instant bond with their baby, but you can start to practice bonding with your bump almost immediately. Talking to your bump can be beneficial, but if you feel uncomfortable or it feels unnatural having a one-way conversation with your belly there are other things you can do.
- Try reading out loud. Whether you read a poem, nursery rhyme, classic story, or even a newspaper (your baby won’t know the difference) reading is a great way to interact with your unborn child; they get to hear your voice and listen to new vocabulary at the same time.
- Play music to your bump. When listening to music, listen from loudspeakers instead of headphones, but never too loud so you are not scaring the foetus with sudden noises. Once you start to feel your baby move, you’ll notice how they might move in response to the music you play.
- Sing a song. Even if you aren’t blessed with the voice of an angel, singing your baby a lullaby, nursery rhyme, or even your favourite song, gives them another chance to hear your voice and begin to recognise the way you sound.
- Finally, do not worry! If music or speech is something you feel uncomfortable with, the fact that you are reading this suggests that you care for the well-being and future development of your baby – a fact much more important than any single lullaby you might sing to your bump!
An almost full-term foetus has a mature hearing system that reliably detects and responds to sound.9 Talking, reading, singing, or any kind of audible stimulation for your bump can be truly rewarding; not only can it help you bond with your unborn child, but, the earlier you talk to your baby the more in tune they will be with your language and the sounds in the environment, which can be calming and soothing your baby.
This article was written as part of our series on how to talk to your bump. Discover more about how you can support your baby’s early language development through our Hello In There series.
Written by: Dr Eino Partanen
As saving the world seemed too arduous a task, Eino Partanen set out to save all the babies instead. His research focuses on the learning mechanisms and their deficits in infants and children, with the hope of developing methods for early assessment and amelioration of abnormal developmental pathways. When his research allows for it, he works as a clinical neuropsychologist. He is best known for his studies on the neural processes underlying foetal learning
1. Timmons J. What can a fetus hear? Healthline 2015. Available at http://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/when-can-a-fetus-hear (Accessed March 2016).
2. Kuhl PK. Early language acquisition: cracking the speech code. Nat Rev Neurosci 2004;5(11): 831–843.
3. Moon C, et al. Language experienced in utero affects vowel perception after birth: a two-country study. Acta Paediatr 2013;102(2):156–160.
4. Byers-Heinlein K, et al. The roots of bilingualism in newborns. Psychol Sci. 2010;21:343–8.
5. Partanen E, et al. Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2013;110(37):15145–50.
6. Mampe B, et al. Newborns’ cry Melody is shaped by their native language. Curr Biol 2009;19(23): 1994–1997.
7. Lee GY and Kisilevsky BS. Fetuses respond to father’s voice but prefer mother’s voice after birth. Dev Psychobiol 2014:56(1):1–11.
8. Voegtline KM, et al. Near-term fetal response to maternal spoken voice. Infant Behav Dev 2013;36:526–533.
9. Moon CM & Fifer WP. Evidence of transnatal auditory learning. J Perinatol 2000;20(8):S37–44.
Last reviewed: 30th June 2016
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