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Study: Talking To Babies In Womb Aids Language Development

We're all familiar with Kindergarten and the impact our first days in school had on our lives.

For most of you, it was the first time in your life learning from a teacher. It was where we made our first friends and were introduced to the wonderful concepts of lunch time, recess, and mid-day naps.

The learning process begins early, but according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), it may begin even earlier than first thought.

Is it possible that an expectant mother's voice can have a positive effect on the language development of her baby? Can mother's voice have a positive impact on a child in the womb? Can the child actually hear you? Pregnant women have always talked to their babies, but now there is evidence that a child can benefit from listening to their mother's voice and heartbeat before birth.

Researchers studied the effects of maternal sounds on infants who were born very prematurely and discovered that the brains of babies who continued to hear these sounds were better primed to learn language than those who did not.

The PNAS study says auditory neurons in the brains of the premature infants expanded after hearing their mother's voice and heartbeat for three hours a day, giving them "the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development." The researchers theorized that exposure to maternal sounds over a full-term pregnancy provides newborns the maximum benefit.

In the article, Brewster resident Garrett Minniti explained that he saw the effect his talking had on his daughter, Aria, who was born four weeks ago at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco.

"When I sang to her in the first week, she was constantly moving,"says Minniti, who is a professional dancer and singer. He spent his time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit praying, singing and even tap dancing, just to see his daughter smile.

Dr. Rebekka Levis, assistant professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College in Valhalla, says "it's never too early to start reading and talking to your baby." She says a growing number of pregnant women who enter her office already talk to their babies, a practice she endorses. "We definitely know that babies can hear their mothers and recognize their voice while in utero."

This is backed up by Parenting.com, which reported that by the time they're born, babies actually can recognize their mother's voice. In one study, doctors gave day-old infants pacifiers that were connected to tape recorders. Depending on the babies' sucking patterns, the pacifiers either turned on a tape of their mother's voice or that of an unfamiliar woman's voice. The amazing result: "Within 10 to 20 minutes, the babies learned to adjust their sucking rate on the pacifier to turn on their own mother's voice," says the study's coauthor William Fifer, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. "This not only points out a newborn's innate love for his mother's voice but also a baby's unique ability to learn quickly."

Hearing loss is affecting young people, and it's an issue that isn't going away. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) says about 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears. A report entitled “Prevalence of Permanent Congenital Hearing Loss"

published in infanthearing.org says widely discrepant figures say between ½ to 20 babies per 1,000 babies are born in the general population are born with permanent hearing loss.

And recently, Connect Hearing ran an article about the World Health Organization called “The State of Children's Hearing Health Around the World” which stressed 32 million children are dealing with some form of hearing loss, with chronic otitis media being the leading cause of concern. Otitis media is an inflammation in the middle ear (the area behind the eardrum) that is usually associated with the build up of fluid. The fluid may or may not be infected, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association says.

The lesson is that hearing loss isn't just a problem for the elderly or those working in dangerous professions – children are at risk too.

It's because of this fact why we at Connect Hearing Canada have encouraged adults to make hearing health a priority for their families and we recommend that parents take their children to their family doctor and ask for a hearing test. We also encourage adults to set a great example for their kids by visiting a Connect Hearing clinic for a free hearing test.

Jon Waterhouse, Manager of Professional Practice for Connect Hearing Canada says he believes that studies such as these will eventually lead to breakthroughs in hearing health.

“It's unbelievable that scientists are beginning to understand how we hear at such a young age, literally before we are even born. What this can teach us is breathtaking,” said Waterhouse. “The beautiful thing about this study is the potential for learning even more interesting things. From my perspective, I think studies like these will eventually help shed some light on what is going on with hearing health at an even younger age.”

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