West Valley Medical Center - September 20, 2016

Here’s some food for thought: my baby not only has ears, but he (or she) can now process sound. Studies have shown that — right around now — he’ll begin to turn his head at certain noises, like a door slamming or my puppy barking fruitlessly at the mailman. And over the next couple weeks, he’ll begin to tell my voice apart from my husband’s and the jumble of other sounds in his world. That’s one of the cooler anatomical developments I’ve learned about recently. My baby also has nipples now, but who gets excited about nipples?

And this auditory revelation opens up a world of possibilities in the critical realm of musical education. One of the things my parents particularly excelled at was exposing my brother and me to the classics at a very young age. Sure, I listened to N*SYNC as much as the next girl, but I had a solid foundation in classic rock, Motown, doo-wop and disco. It absolutely kills me when I meet someone my age who doesn’t know who Freddy Mercury is or can’t sing along to Eleanor Rigby. That’s just not right.

But, being the inquisitive sort, I started to wonder if the rumors are really true in terms of fetal music exposure. You’ve heard the theory I’m sure — that simply playing Beethoven and Mozart for your tiny human will produce a Mensa-stamped prodigy. This hypothesis is particularly alluring to parents who don’t have names picked out but already have their child on the waiting list at several area preschools... not mentioning any names.

If you’re an education snob, like myself, you’ll be disappointed to know that no hard evidence has ever been found to support the “Mozart Effect” in the womb. Because it’s so difficult to study babies' brains in utero, almost all studies on the subject are limited to older children and adults. And while some researchers found an increase in IQ points after listening to classical music, the results were not statistically significant. It’s pretty much impossible to know whether music of any sort — be it Taylor Swift or Tchaikovsky — has an impact on a baby's intelligence later in life.

But wait, there’s more. You know the adorable photos of pregnant moms with headphones strapped to their bellies? Turns out you really shouldn’t do that. Amniotic fluid is a decent conductor of sound, so the tadpole can hear your Beastie Boys album just fine without extra amplification. In fact, experts say the womb is a noisy place to begin with and encourage you to keep external noise exposure below 65 decibels, which is equivalent to a loud dishwasher or quiet vacuum cleaner. And, on a side note, how would you feel if you were napping and your husband stuck headphones on you and blasted Dire Straits? None too pleased, I’m guessing.

Decibel Levels of Common Household Sounds

  • 50 - 75dB: washing machine
  • 55 - 70dB: dishwasher
  • 60 - 85dB: vacuum cleaner
  • 60 - 95dB: hair dryer
  • 65 - 80dB: alarm clock
  • 75 - 85dB: flush toilet
  • 80dB: ringing telephone

I know that’s a lot of bubble-bursting all at once, but rest assured, there is some good news. First off, playing music that makes you feel good probably makes your baby feel good too. If it relaxes you, amps you up, makes you dance or otherwise gives you warm fuzzies, then go for it. Secondly, your baby is absorbing massive amounts of information about the world around him. Talking to your child, singing to them, reading to them, even stroking your stomach are excellent ways to ensure they know your voice and your touch when they eventually emerge from their hobbit hole. Great news for lit dorks like me who routinely read aloud even without an audience.

Of course, just because there is no hard evidence to confirm something, doesn’t necessarily make it harmful. We all have to ultimately choose which rumors, anecdotes and nuggets of conventional wisdom we want to subscribe to. I, therefore, make no promises that my child will not be grooving to music of all varieties long before they leave the womb. The real question in our household is whether his (or her) first dance party will be set to ABBA or Green Day. I’ll leave you to deduce which one of us is the ABBA fan … hint: he’s tall and has considerably more facial hair than I do.