New research has suggested that premature babies may be aided in their ability to pay attention to speech through listening to recordings of their mothers’ voices and heartbeats. Researchers behind the study were aiming to recreate the environment prior to their birth inside the womb.
Premature babies do better if their acoustical environment approximates what the babies would have heard in the womb, neuroscientist Amir Lahav said at a news conference February 13 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
This experiment was done in an effort to expose premature babies to some sound stimulation as often they are not exposed to the normal sounds of a hospital that most newborn babies are exposed to in a hospital setting due to their placements in incubators.
Typically, though, these babies spend a lot of time in hospitals’ neonatal intensive care units, places brimming with beeps, whirs and other sounds generated by life-saving equipment and people. But inside incubators, babies can be deprived of sounds, except for white noise created by the fan.
The study compared the results of premature babies exposed to recordings of their mother’s heartbeats and voices to premature babies that were not exposed to these sounds while in their incubators and the results showed positive results on preverbal measures of social language.
Mothers’ voices and heartbeats are “part of the original recipe for how we should cook premature babies up to full maturation,” Lahav said.
Several days after the birth of their premature babies, Lahav, of Harvard Medical School, asked 12 mothers to record themselves singing, reading and talking. Lahav and colleagues then added audio of mothers’ heartbeats to the recordings and piped the sounds into babies’ incubators for three hours a day. Toward the end of their hospital stay, babies who had heard recordings of their mothers’ voices paid more attention to a female speaker than babies who had not heard the recordings, eye-tracking and pupil-dilation measurements revealed.