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Ask a Best Doctor: Is Music in the Womb Good?

Question: I've heard it's good to talk with and sing to or play music for your baby in the womb. Is there really any scientific evidence that it does anything for development?

Answer: Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of neonatology at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore:

"Exposure to sounds in the womb is important in terms of just helping the normal connections that have to form in the brain," Campbell says.  Especially in the third trimester, between 28 and 29 weeks of development, crucial connections are being formed between the cochlea, part of the inner ear's hearing apparatus which receives sounds, and the brain, where the auditory center recognizes those sounds. But don't get too crazy with the Baby Mozart: "It has nothing to do with cognition, in terms of a baby's intelligence," Campbell explains. "There's really no evidence to support that."  

Stick to sounds that involve engaging with your baby — the voices of parents' and family members and simple melodies are important for the fetus to hear while it's awake. 

"The womb is actually a very noisy place," Campbell says, "with a variety of soft sounds and rumbles and the mother's heartbeat," so avoid booming music (though it may make for a cute picture, do NOT put headphones on your belly), machinery noise, and high-volume TV, and try to keep outside noises to the ideal 50–60 decibel range (that includes normal conversation and simple music).  There IS evidence that newborns and infants recognize their mother's voice and simple melodies they may have heard in the womb, and after birth may show preference for or recognition of those sounds.  And as Campbell notes, though that's not synonymous with increased intelligence, and all babies are born with different inherent potentials, it certainly can't hurt.

"Those families that tend to think about talking to or playing music for the developing baby are oftentimes the families that, after the baby is born, will spend more time interacting with that baby," she says. "And that's how you get a smarter baby, eventually." 

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