Babies are learning even while they are in the womb. They are born already knowing quite a lot about the world they will live in. They know what language is being spoken. They know which songs get sung. And they who is going to be around to talk to them. They don’t know any of this consciously, of course. But they do know it unconsciously. By the third trimester of pregnancy, babies’ sensory systems are sufficiently developed to allow them to pick up this information from the world, and their brains are sufficiently developed to remember what they have experienced. All of this pre-birth learning will help them to survive, because it enables them to fit in with the group to whom they belong. Human beings really are born wired for connection.
Here are some of the discoveries scientists have made about babies’ learning in the womb:
- When they are born, babies already know the sound of their mother’s voice and they prefer it to the sound of a stranger’s
- Babies are born knowing the theme tunes to the television programmes their mum watched while she was pregnant
- Babies whose mothers experience excessive stress during pregnancy are born with biological markers that leave them more susceptible to stress too
Science is revealing that babies’ experiences in the womb are much more important than our culture has realised. The last trimester of pregnancy is especially important. Fetal brains are already keeping track of their experiences, using those patterns to make predictions about what the world will be like. Biological and genetic development is taking place in accord with those predictions. Parents-to-be deserve to understand this science. Knowledge empowers them, helping them to take more charge of their pregnancy. Staying up to date with these scientific discoveries also matters for anyone who works with mums- and dads-to-be, including family support workers, social workers, midwives, obstetricians, childcare staff, tech developers and employers. The kind of world we provide for parents shapes the kind of world they can build for their baby.
Here’s one of our favourite videos exploring what babies’ experience during pregnancy: