An Ancient Practice for the New Millennium
By Julie Louly
The ancient Chinese used to perform what they called Taikyo during pregnancy. In essence, Taikyo involved talking and singing to their unborn children and patting on their expectant tummies. All of these practices are differing forms of auditory stimulation for the prenatal child. Expectant parents believed that Taikyo would make their children smarter and provide them with an intellectual and emotional head start. As in so many things, it now seems that the ancient Chinese knew something it would take modern science thousands of years to prove. Parents of all cultures have talked, sung, and played music to their unborn children for centuries. For most, this has been little more than a way to bond with their child before they are born. But science is now discovering that the unborn child may benefit from this stimulation in ways never imagined.
According to Fred J. Schwartz, M.D., “a significant amount of learning takes place in the uterus. There is no doubt that intrauterine auditory stimuli contribute to a large part of this environment. Evidence points to the fact that learning extends back into the prenatal period, and that the sounds and rhythms in the womb may contain information important to the development of the prenatal brain. The newborn can differentiate a recording of his or her own mother’s prenatal womb sounds from the recording of another mother. ” Dr. Schwartz continues, “There is a vast amount of potential information available to the fetus that can be given in the playing of just one musical note or in singing or talking a single syllable. The content of this sound is full of information and emotion. These communicative processes, which take place before and after birth, contribute to the promotion of the child’s physical development, behavioral characteristics, and level of intelligence. The connections in the prenatal brain, as well as the infant brain, undergo learning dependant reorganization. This process involves synaptic pruning, the regression of neural circuits, as well as the synaptic sprouting (development of new connections) of the developing brain.”
In the normal course of prenatal events, there is a substantial reduction in neurons and synaptic connections that occurs during the last trimester as well as a more modest reduction during childhood. This is consistent with the observation of psychologists that infants and children may have enhanced behavioral abilities that diminish later in life. Since fetal hearing is probably the major component of this learning dependent synaptic pruning and sprouting, the prenatal child is participating in a 2nd and 3rd trimester auditory amphitheater that is perhaps more important than any other classroom.“
If an increased number of neurons (brain cells) and their beginning connections (axons and dendrites) are engaged during their most plastic and receptive developmental stage – the prenatal period – greater strength in the structure will result, much like exercising a muscle. The goal of prenatal stimulation is to withstand the normal process by which 75-90% of all fetal brain cells atrophy (die) before birth. No more brain cells are ever added – once a cell atrophies, it is gone forever and all the active brain cells a person will ever have are present at birth. By reducing fetal brain cell death, prenatal stimulation results in infants being born with enhanced mental architecture – a greater amount of brain material producing brain waves that function at a significantly more mature rate. Throughout life, this early advantage means the child will be better able to absorb and appreciate far more of its environment than a child who did not receive this advantage.
Dr. Marian Diamond has demonstrated that the offspring of rats reared in an enriched environment perform significantly better than other pups. She has also shown that the cortex of the brain is thicker in these animals than in those without prenatal enrichment.
“Your baby’s world inside the womb prepares her for life outside by providing a wide range of experiences that are crucial to her cognitive and sensory development. During the last trimester, she’s eavesdropping on your conversations, discerning the differences between male and female voices, and monitoring your moods. In fact, during the final months, most of your baby’s movements – as well as increases in her heart rate – are in response to specific noises, touches, changes in light, and other sensations. At 32 weeks, an unborn baby will remember a piece of music that she hears and will be able to recognize it after birth. In fact, after listening to this tune for some time in the womb, your baby will start “keeping the beat” by moving her body in sync with the music.”
“It’s exactly what we’re talking about, says Rob Reiner (actor, director, and founder of the I Am Your Child Foundation), noting the now-or-never importance of nurturing from the earliest times. It’s no more possible to make up for lost opportunities in early brain development than to take a 21-year-old whose growth has been stunted by malnutrition and to expect by giving him a wonderfully nutritious diet from then on to have him become a strapping 6-footer. Electrical connections get made in the brain during these early periods that don’t get made later on. As far as anybody knows, there’s no way to fix it if it’s not done at the beginning.”
There are a number of systems and approaches available for prenatal auditory enrichment, ranging from classical music to the prenatal curriculum developed by Dr. Brent Logan, the modern day pioneer in this field. Dr. Logan’s BabyPlus Prenatal Education System is clearly the most developmentally appropriate, scientifically advanced and well-studied approach. Dr. Logan’s research has demonstrated the extraordinary postnatal benefits of the BabyPlus curriculum: infants are born more alert and calm; they have earlier parental voice recognition and are strong at self-soothing; these children are proficient at early nursing, have longer attention spans and early developmental milestones. He has also shown that these infants demonstrate improved stress management and most profoundly, enjoy improved school readiness and stronger learning proficiency later in life.
A conscientious expectant mother today is certain to provide the proper nutritional environment for her developing child during the prenatal months. With her child’s long-term physical development in mind, a responsible mother takes a prenatal vitamin and makes conscientious dietary choices. Similarly, the foundation for a child’s long-term brain development is being laid during these very same months. It now seems that a child’s long-term cognitive and learning skills can indeed be strengthened by certain safe, developmentally appropriate sounds. The optimization of a child’s earliest environment actually encompasses not the “0 to 3” years we frequently read about, but truly “prenatal to 3” years of age.
This world we live in, and more importantly the world that our children will navigate, is becoming more complex and demanding. As a society, we are obligated to strengthen our children for the future. The best gift we as parents can individually bestow to our children is improved early school readiness and strong learning skills for their lifetime.
Julie Louly is a 22 -year veteran of sales and marketing. She is the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of the BabyPlus Company. The company is a leader in prenatal learning and makes the only patented system of its kind.