When is a Good Time to Play Music To Your Unborn Baby?

There has been a lot of scientific research about babies and the ability to hear before they are born.  Music is a medium that can be used to sooth and teach but when should you start playing it?

A baby’s auditory system comes online at 16 weeks so the most benefit will be derived after that time. The best time of day or night and the type of music depends on what you are wanting to achieve.  It is important to not have the sound source too loud and never to put headphones on the mother’s abdomen.

Music can soothe, heal, and help us understand the world.  It is no different for your unborn baby.  Because of your baby’s immature auditory system, it is important to know how and when to administer the use of music in order to protect their hearing. 

There is a lot of misinformation out there and it is important to have the right information, so you don’t damage your baby’s hearing.

Day or Night? When is best?

What time of day or night should I be playing music to my unborn baby?  The answer is, anytime and as often as you like.  It is going to be beneficial no matter what time of the day you play it.  It’s benefits range from calming to relaxation, alertness to playful, depending on the type of music you play.  In fact, various types of music have different effects on babies and it is important to know what sort to play when.

It is important to know though, that playing music all the time isn’t necessary.  It is important for babies to hear voices, speaking and singing so a mix of music played and voices is best.

Babies respond positively to music because it is rhythmical. It is also melodious, much like a parent’s voice.  Music doesn’t always need to be played.  You can sing to your unborn baby which increases the bond between Mother and child.  Because their auditory system is fully functional (albeit sounding a bit muffled) they can process sound, retain in their memory and recognize patterns within music and voices.

Babies Remember The Music They Hear in the Womb After Birth

Research has shown that babies remember the music played to them in the womb, even after birth which is something I have seen repeatedly firsthand.  Often, I have a mother bring a toddler to music class while she is pregnant. 

The baby is exposed to music for months.  Because we have home materials so parents can have the same music at home to extend learning, the unborn baby is hearing the music during the week as well as at music class once a week.

After birth, baby responds to many of the songs that were played during pregnancy.  Lullabies often soothe more adequately than others, lively songs will stir a reaction and later, even a smile.  But it’s not just in the played music that baby recognizes all these things. 

A mother’s voice carries particular tonal ranges and patterns of its own, patterns remembered and recognized by the baby after birth.  It is familiar, it is safe and comforting.  So, in a sense, speaking can have similar rhythmic qualities to singing.  Adding a melody though, gives baby a more complex, rich experience that the brain can hang onto.

Prenatal music exposure induces long term neural effects

We process sound in 2 separate ways – air conduction through our ears and bone conduction through our skeletal system.  This explains why a hearing-impaired person can dance in time to music that they can’t hear with their ears, particularly if their feet are bare on a wooden floor. 

The vibrations flow from the speaker to the feet of the person, and up through the skeletal structure, giving the brain information that it needs (in addition to information coming in through the ears).  The brain then processes the sound and interprets what it is hearing.

All this processing (which we do 24/7 and can’t shut off) has the added benefit of inducing long term neural effects.  Playing music while in the womb, helps to grow your baby’s brain and form neural connections that, if music experiences are continued, have long term effects.

Babies Brains Search Out Patterns Found in Music

A baby’s pulse is developed around day 22 or so.  That is their first experience with rhythm.  Everything in that baby’s body is then formed around the rhythm of their pulse.  They also have the heartbeat and breathing of their mother in their sound environment, so it is rich with rhythm and musicality. 

Rhythm and patterns play such an important part in the brain of your unborn child.

Baby’s brains (and in fact all human brains) react well to patterns. They search out patterns in sound because it is comforting and soothing.  This is why white noise is so damaging.  First of all we need to define white noise as lots of things are called white noise these days that really aren’t.

White noise is anything where there is no pattern.  A constant static sound is white noise whereas waves breaking on an ocean is not.  There is a rhythmic pattern to that.  The hum of the tires on the road or an air-conditioning unit is non-rhythmical, but rhythm and melody in songs both provide structure for the brain to hold onto.

We live in a world where there is already lots of white noise.  Vacuum cleaners, air conditioners, heaters, traffic (not sirens or horns – there are rhythmical patters to those but the general hum of traffic), lots of low-level white noise that our auditory systems spend hours processing without anything for the brain to hang onto.

When we provide white noise machines during sleep time (after birth) the baby’s brain works hard to try and “make sense” of the sound, constantly looking for patterns.  There isn’t any and so they become exhausted.  If played soft gentle music, it provides the rhythmic structure needed for the brain and so they sleep more deeply and restfully.

The same happens inutero.  While they are protected in the womb with fluid, the white noise of our society can still be heard and processed.  Playing music in the background is a wonderful way to provide calm and structure for the brain.

Music can also excite.  Faster tempos and higher frequencies excite the brain (for both mother and unborn child) so are best for wake periods.

What Types of Music Should Be Played?  Is Classical Music the Best?

Any music we play is going to have benefit.  A variety has even more benefit but be careful of loud music as it can damage the baby’s hearing. 

As adults, we have well working filtration systems in place to filter out unwanted sound, but unborn babies don’t have them yet so are more sensitive to their sound environment.

While classical music is good, it doesn’t have to be all classical.  Play what you love but include a variety.  You don’t eat the same food every day for months, well it is the same for your unborn baby – they need variety in their sound diet.

Play a variety during waking hours and softer, gentler music for sleep periods, made up from music you enjoy listening to.

Will Listening to Music While Pregnant Make Your Baby Smarter?

There has been a lot of speculation and hype claiming that listening to classical music (in particular Mozart) will make your baby smarter.  There is no scientific evidence to support this.  Classical music provides a rich sound scape with both high and low tones and a variety of rhythmic elements but other music can also provide similar things.

Once again, a variety is good and while music education (and exposer to music while in the womb) can increase a child’s ability to have more advanced auditory and rhythm skills (which can lead to higher reading and test scores down the track) it is a much more complex discussion than listening to classical music makes children smarter.

Do Babies in the Womb Respond to Music?

Now that we have the technology available to us, we are able to monitor babies in the womb and see the effects music can have on an unborn child. 

Studies have shown that unborn babies do recognize voices and music.  They move in an excited way to certain pieces of music or when they hear a particular person’s voice.

There has been concrete evidence that babies do respond to music during pregnancy and that the effects are positive.

Should I Use Earphones On My Belly When I Play Music?

A fetus does not have the filters that we have as adults (or older children).  Filtration systems are formed after birth – in fact months after birth so you are dealing with an infant that brings in all sound equally (including that in his/her environment). 

Because they are processing sound all the time (between the Mother’s heartbeat and her own body sounds, sounds in the environment and their own heartbeat) while music is good, there is no need for headphones on the Mother’s belly. 

That sound (even though muffled because of the amniotic fluid) is processed adequately without any additional resources.  So why the need for headphones?  In fact, it is a much more natural experience to process sound in the womb as mother moves to music that is located in her environment.

Headphones amplify the sound, directing it in a more concentrated way and can actually harm a baby’s hearing. Headphones should never be used and pregnant mothers are advised not to go to places where the sound is amplified to extreme levels for prolonged periods of time, such as a rock concert.  Sound exposure that is too loud can actually produce premature births and even a reduction in birth weight

What are the Benefits of Playing Music While Baby is in the Womb?

The benefits of playing music to an unborn child are many but here are some, just to name a few:

  • Relaxation
  • Builds auditory processing skills
  • Makes brain connections
  • Helps promote language understanding
  • Helps with memory

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