Many of the world's cultures believe that the pregnant woman should strive to be happy, stay in restful surroundings, listen to beautiful music and keep company with congenial people.
She is told to avoid unpleasant situations and experiences, and, even more important, is advised not to take anything that may be detrimental to her growing fetus' health.
The avoidance of ingested substances that may harm the fetus has scientific basis, of course, but what about those other things? What do they have to do with the growing baby? Could there be a connection to the development of the baby's nervous system, and then to learning?
Talking to the baby also appears to help, and both parents are encouraged to do this. Even reading to the baby is an activity espoused by many mothers, who may later find that they have early readers for children. The rhythmic sound of a voice reading nursery rhymes or stories could be the baby's first step in the learning of a language, or in the development of love for the written (and read) word..
Many stories are told about adults who felt an unusual affinity for and familiarity with certain musical pieces..They subsequently found that they were exposed in some way to those selections while they were still in their mothers' wombs. Some musicians know this to be true, including that idea that they were 'primed' for music as pre-born individuals. There are many such accounts cited as an interesting phenomenon either in biographies or in treatises about human learning..
All of this presupposes that the baby hears every sound around him, muffled as it is by the amniotic fluid and the mother's abdominal wall. The parents' familiar voices are known to make a baby stop moving as he listens intently, or stop his crying when rocking and dancing could not. There are several studies done to determine exactly what the baby hears, and attempts by some to record womb sounds to try to soothe the fussy baby.
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Some children whose mothers were depressed during pregnancy (perhaps because of illness of a family member, or some problems with the marriage, later resolved) appear to be depressed themselves, rarely smiling, or even sobbing often or not feeding well, and others not growing well despite what seems to be adequate caloric intake (and a medical work-up). One such baby never smiled, indeed, appeared sullen and was described by family as a 'sour-face'. Two did not suck unless they were fed when asleep.
If mood and behavior can be influenced negatively by mothers' experiences during pregnancy, it is also possible to influence these babies positively and set the mood for learning, as well as improve their outlook in life.
If we are to stimulate the fetus' billions of brain cells that are available for programming, we have to start by thinking that this growing organism is an individual with his own personality and his hearing. That means that when we speak to this baby from outside, we realize that his ears register not only the lilt of our voice but the pattern of our language, so we speak as we would to another person whom we respect and love. Thinking about the baby in this manner teaches us to be aware of his humanness early and enhances the feelings of love that will certainly be of help when he comes out in a manner which is not exactly the way we expected, or when he doesn't look the way we thought he would, or when he does not behave in the way we wanted him to.
In my practice, I see more and more brand-new babies who are alert and responsive, with expressions that seem to be that of older infants. These babies seem to cry less than what adults expect of new babies and are 'calm' and happy most of the time. They smile at one month, coo at less than that, and turn over and reach for objects at less than four months of age. These developmentally advanced babies appear to have one thing in common -- their mothers turned on the music when these babies were still inside, read to them months before they were ready to be born, and talked to them on a regular basis, even before their due dates. Many of these babies are also breastfed, which is probably also because the practice of reading and talking to the babies and playing music to them bonded the mothers early and increased their success with breastfeeding.
Here's an article from Child Genius Magazine about brain development.