When I was pregnant I thought a lot about creating a calm, stress-free experience for my baby. I listened to Mozart or Enya. I am not a big Enya fan, but the music was always tranquil, if repetitive. As far as Mozart went, I knew the theory that listening to Mozart could raise IQ levels in babies had been debunked (in studies by psychologist Christopher Chabris and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany), but I liked the idea of my fetus hearing something beautiful. I put symphonies 40, 32 and 41 on heavy rotation. Gone from my playlist were the Raconteurs, Beck and even Otis Redding.
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But can a fetus really hear much at all? “Fetal hearing is fully developed at 24 weeks, and low-frequency sounds can be perceived,” says Dr. Carl Smith, Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “Sound is vibration, which the neural connections in a fetus are able to process. Yet it’s hard to judge what a fetus can actually hear from the outside world.”
A fetus can hear the steady drumming of the mother's heartbeat and the rush of blood through veins.
Dr. Smith pointed out that the womb in and of itself is not a quiet place. A fetus can hear the steady drumming of its mother’s heartbeat and the rush of blood through veins. It can also hear stomach noises, bowel sounds and other day-to-day operations of the body. Hmmm. Perhaps this is why newborns find white noise to be so calming.