Should you play music to your baby in the womb?

Does this photo of a lady with headphones around her bump look very peculiar to you? No? Perhaps, it is because you too have been subject to this idea floating around that blasting sweet tunes to your baby while it is still in the womb is the best thing you can do for its pre-natal development (not better than quitting smoking and drinking, so don’t forget to do that).

As we have previously highlighted scientists love to research the magical world of music and its effect on our physical, mental and emotional states. Therefore, it is absolutely no surprise that the notion that playing music for the baby while it is still in the womb in order to improve its development came from a study conducted back in 1993. Frances Rauscher gathered 36 college students, separated them into groups and had them listen to a sonata in D-major by Mozart, to some relaxation record or to complete silence before asking them to perform a few spatial reasoning tasks. In one particular test in which students had to determine what shape a paper that has been folded several times has when unfolded, those who got to listen to Mozart showed greater improvement in their performance, by 8 or 9 spatial IQ points. Surprisingly, that was enough to launch the craze named and even trademarked as the Mozart effect. It claimed that you get smarter by listening to Mozart and that exposing children to classical music from an early age on gives them all sorts of intelligence boosts. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people and companies jumped on that marketing bandwagon.

Baby HeadphonesOne example can be the Babypod. It is basically a speaker that expecting mothers insert into their vaginas so as to “stimulate vocalization of babies before birth with music”. Yes, that is a thing. One that even has an app now. In all fairness, its creators don’t claim that it will turn your baby into a genius the world has never seen before, they just claim it will help stimulate its language and communication centers, perhaps thus aiding in preventing conditions such as dyslexia. From the looks of it, something that this device can probably stimulate is an orgasm for the mother, which is great, until you realise that a Babypod costs 150 Euro and you decide that there are better orgasm-inducing machines you can buy for that kind of money.

If the Babypod and Mozart effect managed to excite you in some way, let me stop you before you start running to your iPod and browsing for ‘Mozart‘. Let’s see what actual science has to say about it all.


Has the ‘Mozart effect’ been scientifically proven to work?

Um, sorry to say, but no. Rauscher herself still has a “WTF” reaction about the whole ordeal – why her small-scale study on college students got such wide-spread attention and somehow seemed to give near magical effects to Mozart’s music for fetuses, who are a long way from going to university? Other scientists also were interested to investigate the validity of the mass myth. The psychologist, Christopher Chabris, did in 1999 an analysis of 16 different studies on the Mozart effect as a way to judge whether it is as effective as so many people and businesses claim. It turns out that if indeed there was any IQ bump it was insignificant and somehow only worked for the specific paper-folding task. Other researchers have also concluded that there isn’t any significant evidence to prove that the Mozart effect improves children’s cognitive abilities. But still no one is questioning that music does have a very spectacular influence on the human body, check out this Drooble article for more interesting information on the topic.


What can babies hear in the womb?

Despite the fact that the Mozart effect turned out to be a myth it is still fascinating to find out what babies can indeed hear while in the womb and how those sounds affect their development.

A recent study conducted by the Institut Marques determined that fetuses react to music as early as 16 weeks into their development with the baby responding to the music by moving their lips and sticking out their tongues. This was an exciting discovery as before that scientists thought that the fetus could not hear music before 26 weeks. By the way, these are the same people that ‘birthed’ the Babypod, inspired by the results of this study. Check out the “singing” baby here:

As a whole babies are predominantly exposed to the sounds within their mother’s body – blood pumping through the veins, breathing, gurgling sounds from the stomach, the mother’s voice. Babies get attached to their mother’s voice and recognize it once born, which relates to an interesting study conducted by researchers in Finland. It showed that babies up to 4 months after birth can “remember” a song that was played to them during the late stages of the pregnancy. This was determined through an EEG, used to measure brain activity, placed on the babies’ heads. The aim was to then measure event-related potentials (ERP) while the music was playing. The results showed that the babies which were in the learning group had stronger ERPs than the ones in the control group to the familiar music. This was no longer the case after four months. The study also concluded that a noisy environment at the late stages of the pregnancy can be detrimental to the baby’s development. So, I guess no wild rave parties for all you pregnant ladies out there.


Mozart effect or not, music is a wonderful thing to have as part of your life – something I suspect all of us can attest to. Drooble is here to bring together all of us who believe that.

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