Q. My wife is six months pregnant, and we're wondering if our baby can benefit from listening to classical music while in the womb. Does this really help a child get an educational head start?
A. Every parent wants the best for their child, even before he or she is born. That's not crazy -- it's natural. But in trying to supply your baby-to-be with the best, it's important to keep perspective.
It has been documented by researchers that the fetus's ability to hear is well developed by the end of the second trimester or the beginning of the third. Whether an in utero concerto gives the baby a head start in education has not been proven. Some experts even worry that it can be harmful if it causes parents to place too much emphasis on achievement at an early age. Babyhood and childhood should be a time of simple pleasures.
That said, there's nothing wrong with providing a uterine environment that's rich in music and language it's an easy way for parents to bond with their baby-to-be. Speaking or reading to your baby while she's in the womb (no amplification is necessary) won't guarantee a scholarship to Harvard, but it will guarantee that he or she will know your voice at birth. (Such recognition, however, is probable if you just spend a lot of time speaking to your wife.)
Playing classical music will increase the likelihood that your newborn will appreciate, and even be soothed by, these sounds -- although it has been shown that exposure to music and literature has a much more significant effect after birth than it does prenatally. And don't underestimate the power of touch. Since this sense also begins to develop in utero, stroking your wife's abdomen may also help strengthen the bond between you and your baby.
Most important, however, is to remember the value of parental love: Children who are loved unconditionally are more likely to grow up happy and fulfilled individuals. And what could be a better accomplishment than that?
BabyTalk contributing editor Heidi Murkoff is the coauthor of What to Expect When You're Expecting (Workman) and author of What to Expect When You Go to the Dentist, the newest book in her What to Expect Kids series (HarperCollins).