A growing body of research suggests that infants can learn while they’re still in utero. In fact, while this phenomenon was once thought limited to their ability to sense their environments, the rising field of epigenetics now suggests that it’s possible to condition infants with deeply engrained traits as appetite and food preferences.
Almost all pregnant women would do just about anything to help their baby get a good start on life and they crave interaction with the baby, even before it’s born. Here are some ways to teach an infant about the world while it’s still tucked away inside its mother.
Stimulate an active baby by encouraging it to play games. Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel suggest in their book, "What To Expect When You're Expecting," that this will accustom the infant to responding to its mother. When a baby starts kicking (wait for the baby to initiate the session, as there's the risk of waking it from much needed sleep otherwise), the authors suggest that the mother touch her belly where the baby kicked and say something encouraging such as, "Kick, baby, kick!" This can be repeated several times and eventually the baby will learn to kick a point on the abdomen in response to the mother touching that spot and saying, "Kick, baby, kick!"
Play music for the baby. Murkoff and Mazel note that there's little indication that prenatal exposure to music will make an infant smarter and they warn against overly-pushy parents setting their expectations too high, but it seems that infants are comforted after birth by those sounds they heard most while in the womb.
Furthermore, loud sounds, such as those a pregnant woman might hear at a concert, will stress her baby slightly though they won't be loud enough inside her body to damage the baby's ears. Periodic stress appears to increase a newborn's ability to deal with stress once it's born. Researcher Rick Gilmore from Penn State University heartily echoes the sentiment that music can help enrich the prenatal environment, suggesting that while Mozart was once considered the best music to stimulate brain development, it now appears that any prenatal music exposure will do the trick.
Read stories to the baby. Familiar voices and familiar patterns of sound, such as those of a frequently read story, will teach a baby comfort while it's still in the womb. The same voices and stories will then comfort the baby after it is born, which comes in very handy on nights when a baby is fussy and doesn't want to sleep. The mother's voice is heard best by a baby in the womb, but everyone else who will be a big part of the baby's life can also accustom the fetus to their voices by reading close to the mother's belly. While Gilmore notes that there's nothing to suggest that what a mother reads (or even whether she reads at all, as talking to the baby will serve just as well) matters in the long run, many women find reading a story a bit easier to maintain than an extensive monologue to an invisible listener.
Create a good pre-natal environment. In their book, "You: Having A Baby," Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. note that research suggests the environment in a woman's womb teaches a fetus what to expect from the world once it's born. Plenty of good nutrition conditions it for plentiful food in the world and programs it with healthy cellular and metabolic responses. Inappropriate nutrition, as when the mother eats too little or eats junk food, teaches the fetus that the world will be one of deprivation. This programs its cells to store calories as fat, and predisposes it to weight problems.
- “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”; Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel; 2008
- “You, Having A Baby”; Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.; 2009
- Penn State University: In Utero Learning