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It has long been stated among many individuals that babies can hear music in the womb, and that, by hearing certain music, they can develop faster or even better than babies that do not have the privilege of listening to Mozart.
An entire industry of musical CDs and programs for children has been born from numerous studies that you hear from a friend of a friend insisting that classical music can boost a child's brainwaves. But what are the realities of the situation? Is it possible that a baby in the womb can listen to classical music, and, if so, what can that do for them?
The answer to the question is, of course, that it depends on when.
Fetuses develop hearing faculties around week six. At this time, the face starts to develop, though, they are barely indents on the skin. Around week nine, little indents around the neck begin to form that will one day develop into earlobes.
Of course, this does not mean your baby can hear at this time. It just means that ears are beginning to form. They are not advanced enough to pick up on any sound, nor is the brain developed enough to register auditory stimuli as anything, nor are they strong enough to pick up on any sound outside of the placenta they are floating inside of.
So you can put away your ear phones for that first trimester, and even into the second.
Week sixteen is when things start to get interesting.
By this point, your baby's inner ears will start to develop. This is where they will begin to hear sound. It remains debatable among scientists at what point they begin to hear, but it has been observed that, by week twenty-four, a baby will respond to sound by glancing toward the source of said sound or moving around in the womb.
So yes, babies in the later stages of development can hear you. But so what?
What Can They Hear?
Placenta and other material makes it hard for babies to hear much defined sound outside the womb. Dip your head underwater, and try to hear someone outside the water. It comes as muffled, yes? That is you hearing through fluid--just fluid--with fully developed ears.
Imagine a baby hearing through flesh, fluid, and the rhythm of vessels around her trying to hear beyond that.
So classical music may sound like muted noise. Conversations outside may sound like muted noise. While studies do show that babies observe and learn from the stimuli around them, assimilating language skills and developing cognitive skills based on external stimuli, it isn't likely that they will be able to learn much based on exterior noise around them because they probably can't hear it all that clearly.
But there is one thing that they can hear very, very clearly.
External sounds may be hard for a baby to hear. But sounds coming from inside the body are a different story.
Sound does not merely reverberate out through the mouth, but throughout the body. It travels through bones, through flesh, and, yes, through to the womb. Babies recognize their mother's voice because it is one of the first sounds they hear. It is the most consistently clear sound they hear, and why babies respond so well to their mothers after birth.
So yes, babies can hear, but you don't need to put headphones on or break out your Mozart CDs just yet. After all, they are already listening to what you say and the sound of your voice. It is here that babies begin registering language skills based on how you speak. It is here that babies recognize their mothers. It is here that a baby's brain truly sparks to life.