Will Listening to Music Make Your Baby Smarter?

By Peter Van Eerden, MD Jan 30, 2017

Many pregnant women think that playing classical music for her unborn child will improve the baby’s intelligence. Parents want so much to give their children every possible enhancement they can. Parents naturally want the best for their babies. And these days, part of “the best” is often being “the smartest.” But, is there scientific evidence to back up this idea?

A short paper was published in the scientific journal Nature in 1993 and introduced the so-called “Mozart effect” to the public. The study, involving only 36 college students, found that students who listened to a Mozart sonata for a few minutes before taking a test that measured spatial relationship skills did better than students who took the test after listening to another musician or no music at all. The effect in the students was temporary and has always been controversial.

The media and politicians responded, claiming that listening to the music offered numerous benefits and could alleviate physical and mental health problems. Companies still continue to market classical music to parents of children so they can listen their way to greater intelligence. This can make women feel guilty if they are not providing this service for their unborn child. While thousands of units have been sold, the scientific proof is lacking.

Music and Development

A comprehensive review of all available studies on the matter found there is no link between listening to classical music and the brain’s development of spatial ability. Interestingly, infants in one test appeared to recognize music that had frequently been played by the parents during pregnancy. There are some studies suggesting that children who spend time involved in a musical pursuit tested higher on SATs and reading proficiency exams than those with no instruction in music. Researchers believe that musical training creates new pathways in the brain. If classical music does make a difference in a baby’s IQ, it’s probably a very slight difference.

If you like classical music, by all means, play it. It definitely can’t hurt. Researchers believe that babies can hear outside sounds while in the womb. Reading or singing to your baby, or playing your favorite music, can help you feel closer to him or her, and that’s a good thing. Don’t feel pressured into the latest trends. But remember, you don’t have to play music for your baby, read books to your baby, teach your baby a foreign language or do anything else to make your baby smart. In fact, you already have a great control over your baby’s environment.

Environment and Development

In order to develop properly, your baby needs a safe and healthy environment. So, basic things like not smoking, not hanging around smokers and not drinking will have a huge impact. Inhaling or ingesting substances such as cigarette smoke, excessive alcohol, and illegal drugs, have all been shown to harm brain development and increase the risk of a child having learning and behavior problems later in life. Getting rest and continuing to exercise and stay active will also help to make an impact on your baby’s initial environment. Moderate levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that is also secreted when you exercise, may promote the growth and development of your baby’s brain.

Nourish Yourself, Nourish Your Baby

What you eat, drink and breathe can have a tremendous long-term impact on your baby, resulting in developmental enhancements or delays. Taking a prenatal vitamin with the B vitamin folic acid, is essential. To get more folic acid in your diet, look to excellent sources like fortified breakfast cereals, lentils and leafy greens like spinach. Some women develop problems with their thyroid for the first time during pregnancy, and it’s important to treat any issues that arise. Low levels of thyroid hormone have been linked to subtle IQ deficits later in childhood. To help keep the gland functioning normally, consume 220 mcg of iodine per day. Iodine is found in yogurt and milk, as well as iodized salt. While it takes very poor maternal nutrition to harm a baby’s developing brain, in general, the better you nourish your body, the better you nourish your baby’s growing brain.

The longer the baby stays in the womb, the better. The longer your baby’s brain has to develop in utero, the better off he or she’ll be in the long run. At 35 weeks, baby’s brain volume is only two thirds of what you’d expect it to be at 39 or 40 weeks. The March of Dimes advises against planning your delivery before 39 weeks as that is when your baby’s brain is still developing. And every time you wish your pregnancy were over, remember that your smart, healthy baby is worth the wait.

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