Repost from a news article from BabyCenter

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Fetus Learns Intonations of Mother’s Language

Thu, Nov 5, 2009 (HealthDay News) — Infants who are just a few days old cry with intonation patterns that reflect the language spoken by their parents, new research shows.

The conclusion drawn by German researchers is that fetuses are listening closely to their mothers during the last trimester of pregnancy, laying the groundwork for learning language even before they’re born.

By analyzing the sounds of newborn cries, researchers found distinct differences in the intonation patterns of German and French newborns. Put another way, German babies cried in a recognizably “German” way, while French newborns were decidedly “French” in their crying patterns, according to the study published in the Nov. 5 online edition of Current Biology…

…Sorry, Dad. Most of the influence is probably coming from mom, DiPietro said. Even though the fetus can hear their father’s voice — in fact, deeper-pitched sounds such as the male voice travel better through the abdomen than higher-pitched female voices — the mother’s voice is also transmitted internally, through the vibration of her vocal cords.

“We know that the maternal voice is the most salient external stimulus to the fetus,” DiPietro said.

German researchers recorded the cries of 60 newborns born to either French- or German-speaking parents. The babies were three to five days old.

A sound pattern analysis revealed unmistakable differences in the newborns’ “cry melodies.” While French newborns tended to cry with a rising (low to high) contour, German newborns had a falling (high to low) inflection.

The patterns are consistent with the inflection patterns of the two languages, according to the study. French is characterized by a rising pitch toward the end of words and many phrases, while German is marked by falling pitches.

Previous research has shown fetuses are able to form memories in the womb that are important for early learning, said Kenneth Gerhardt, a professor of audiology and senior associate dean of the graduate school of the University of Florida.

A prior study noted a change in fetal heart rate when listening to a familiar voice. Shortly after birth, other studies have shown babies are more attentive to their mother’s voice than other voices, supporting the idea that the fetus develops memories of the maternal voice in utero.

“This is a valid study and a clever way to look at the memories that are formed in utero,” Gerhardt said. “The researchers are correct in stating these memories probably occur at the beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy. It’s at that point in time the auditory system just begins to respond to acoustic signals.”

Earlier studies have shown 12-week-old infants can mimic the vowel sounds of adult speakers. But younger babies don’t yet have the muscle coordination to produce the level of vocal control necessary to do that, according to the study.

Mimicking melody contour is simpler.

“Imitation of melody contour, in contrast, is merely predicated upon well-coordinated respiratory-laryngeal mechanisms and is not constrained by articulatory immaturity,” the researchers wrote. “Newborns are probably highly motivated to imitate their mother’s behavior in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding.”

The concept that fetuses can learn does not support playing classical music for your unborn child or the use of “fetal learning systems,” which are marketed as a way to give babies a head start by playing certain sounds through the abdomen.

“We have known for some time the fetus is capable of some learning, but it doesn’t mean you should teach them stuff,”it’s a terrible idea to put speakers on your abdomen and play stimuli to your fetus. There is no evidence they work, and we would guess they could even harm development by disrupting fetal sleep.” DiPietro said. “That’s the leap people make. But among all of us that do fetal research, we are unanimous that

— Jennifer Thomas


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For my part, I just really had to laugh at that part where the fetal researchers unanimously say that its a terrible idea to teach your unborn baby stuff, that sure, they are capable of learning but it doesn’t mean you have to put speakers on your abdomen to give them a head start on learning. Tsk tsk.

Though I played a lot of classical music too when I was pregnant and slept through it during the day. I love classical music. 😉 There are certain operas that I absolutely love! Can’t fault me on that. I still used to play classical music while the baby slept when she was so much younger. Now it only wakes her up and disrupts her sleep so I only try to play it during play time. Most times though she listens to whatever it is I listen to and lately those are just anything from Jason Mraz, Damien Rice, Bat for Lashes, Iron and Wine, Tori Amos, Katy Perry, Lilly Allen to True Blood OST.

At the end of it all, I still say it’s so nice to be a mom. The babies are closer to their mothers but that’s just because we work so much harder than the fathers. From carrying them for 36-40 weeks to giving birth to breastfeeding, up to caring for them when they’re sick, teaching them how to walk and talk and be on their own. These days I’m so cranky because the baby sleeps really early like six thirty or seven in the evening and wakes up at three or four in the morning and I have to be the one to take care of her since my husband is very specific about having a good night’s sleep. 😐 Some days I get to sleep at six in the morning! No, some days (or weeks) I do the taking care of the baby all by myself!! Not too happy about that, really, I’m not.

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