Moms’ Voice Aids Preemie Babies’ Brain Development


Premature babies’ brains develop better when they hear their mother’s voice, according to new research.

It’s an established theory that talking to your baby in the womb and exposing the foetus to soothing music is a good thing that aids brain development and growth. Now, a US-based study suggests that this sort of activity should continue after a baby’s birth, if the child is delivered prematurely.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and focused a small group of babies in aneonatal intensive care unit. Researcher Amir Lahav, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, told that even “three hours a day of exposure [to mom’s voice and heartbeat] was enough to give the brain a very good boost in terms of development and maturation in the auditory cortex,” (The auditory cortex is the part of the brain that helps with hearing and processiong sounds and language.)

A group of 40 premature babies was spilt into two, with one half hearing the ward noises. The other half had small speakers placed in their incubators and were played recordings of their mothers’ heartbeat and voices singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and reading Good Night Moon for three hours a day. The recording of doting mothers and their heartbeats would mimic what a baby had previously heard in the womb.

Now for the complicated science bit: after 30 days the scientists proceeded to measure the cicumferences of the babies’ heads and took ultrasounds of the size of their auditory cortices and corpus callosums, a band of fibres that connects ‘cerebral hemispheres’. The babies who heard their mother’s voices and heartbeat every day had larger auditory cortices than the babies who listened to the ward sounds.

Conclusion: atrificially created maternal and family sounds triumph over the clinical sounds of the ward. As the Dr. Lahav told the New York Times, “This is part of the biological recipe for how you cook a baby.” Let’s hope this study leads to changes in neonatal practice.

Science of Us

Follow Jeanne Sutton on Twitter @jeannedesutun

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