What Babies Learn In the Womb
They're doing and thinking a lot more than we used to believe
An Ear for Language
Muffled or not, unborn babies seem to develop a fine ear for certain sounds. Research reveals that babies had their first lessons in their native language while still in utero. They'll suck more vigorously to turn on tape recordings of people speaking in the language of their mothers, rather than in a foreign tongue. Of course, it's likely the babies are picking up on the rhythm and melody of the speech, rather than individual words.
This doesn't mean that moms need to converse directly to their swelling belly to give their child a head start on language, however. A developing fetus gets all the information he needs just by listening in on his mother's conversations with others. He also may be picking up something from any books she reads aloud. Besides being able to tell the difference between English and French, a study shows that babies in the womb may be able to recognize the specific rhythms and patterns of the stories they hear. Pregnant women read out loud one of two stories -- The Cat in the Hat or The King, the Mice, and the Cheese -- twice a day for six weeks before they delivered their babies. After birth, when the infants were three days old, they were played tape recordings of unfamiliar voices reading those stories: They consistently changed their sucking patterns on the pacifiers to hear the story they'd heard in utero.
Seeing the Light
Since there's no such thing as a womb with a view, it's no great loss that a baby's eyes, which form in the first trimester, are sealed shut until about the seventh month. After they open, the fetus is able to see, but there's little or no light to see anything by. Some doctors have reported, however, that if you shine a very bright light up inside the uterus, the fetus will turn away from it. Similarly, doctors suspect that the fetus may be able to detect a faint glow if a strong light is pointed right at mom's belly. Ultrasound has also revealed that fetuses gradually open and close their eyes more and more as they near delivery, as if practicing for blinking and seeing in the outside world.