The Vital Union

In the beginning, (life still in the womb), there is a sharing of life, and from this sharing, childhood, and motherhood emerge. The parent-child alliance is the most important relationship in anyone’s life. There are two kinds of alliances in child bearing and child rearing. First, the child to its mother relying on mother for protection, knowledge, encouragement and, ultimately, for an early sense of self-esteem. Consequently, babies need to know early and accurately in life, what their mothers will do. If mother is trustworthy and predictable, baby can adjust and survive, even when mother is not the most giving and loving. If mother is not only trustworthy and responsive but also warm and sensitive to the needs of her child, then an even more intimate union is formed. This fusing of the relationship from the child to its mother is the vital union in infantile development. Early studies in this area with baby rhesus monkeys and “mother surrogates” (one was a wire frame, shaped like the adult female monkey and provided milk through bottles and the other was covered with warm terry cloth and did not provide milk), showed the importance of warmth and softness over mere hard nurturing objects. These baby monkeys preferred (and made better adjustments as adults) when both types of surrogate mothers were available than monkeys who only had the wire and milk providing surrogate mother. While these results cannot be directly translated to human beings, they begin to demonstrate the importance of close personal contact between mothers and babies. These studies are but part of the revolution in child rearing that has taken place in the last fifty years . . . years that have seen a steady movement away from mechanical, distant child care to a close, intimate and more humane style of care-giving.
In the 1940′s the need was demonstrated conclusively for the “dynamic-duo” of mother and child to touch each other, for body-to-body contact, and for the pleasure both derived from these close contacts. In the 1950′s, 1960′s and 1970′s, theories developed about the attachment of children and the bonding of mothers. Coupled with the considerable research done on the relationship of class and culture to the socialization of children, the entire concept of proper parenting and child rearing has changed. Even as these developments were occurring, the rising tide of feminism began altering the relationship of the sexes (particularly in North America) and parenting emerged as a combined involvement of both sexes in a relationship with the child. Father became a vital, intimate person in his infant’s life, no longer a distant wage earner and a peripheral figure until the child was between five to ten years of age. Concepts of attachment, separation, and bonding have become central features in any modem child development system that involves human relationships. While the concepts of A Sound Beginning are related to bonding and attachment, the long-term effects have not yet been established. A Sound Beginning is a program which can provide better bridges between parents and infants, helping them to develop expectations of sensitive responses to their children while encouraging cooing, singing, touching, and kissing. A Sound Beginning is a program which does increase the newborns and older neonates ability to orient (shift) their bodies to follow their mother’s voice. A Sound Beginning helps mothers lessen their fear and anxiety about their ability to handle their baby comfortably as they become excellent care-givers.
  • Sound Beginning involves prenatal activities which will create better give and take between parents and their infant, and will encourage early, deep positive feelings on the part of a mother and father for their child. Any parent who has put time into Musical Bonding, who has performed the visualization exercises and who has worked through issues in their relationship, has already invested a considerable amount of themselves in good parenting. They will continue to create the type of caring relationship which is most loving and satisfying. This is the essence of bonding.
  • You can also promote a strong connection between your older child and unborn baby by having your child create a Womb Song, and periodically playing it to your unborn, while your other child is present, participating in this “bonding session.” Sibling bonding sessions will be more fully discussed later.
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Upward Bonding

  • Coming from the infant side, because of Musical Bonding, the unborn baby will respond selectively to the Womb Song. After birth, baby will continue to behave selectively to that song and to mother’s voice because of prior learning.
  • The bridge that was established with the unborn child continues to exist and operate for the neonate; the infant is more responsive to the learned song, confusion of birth is lessened and the vital union is forged again with the child after birth by continuing to play or sing the Womb Song. Baby’s responsiveness helps make you, the mother and father, feel more effective and the Womb Song learned in utero continues to bond you and your child.
  • Parents are delighted with the power of their Womb Song to quiet and soothe their baby. You will learn the pleasure of interacting and will continue to strengthen the connection between you and your infant with greater confidence and with a heightened awareness of family development.

The Birth of A Sound Beginning

Early Hearing and “Conditioning” Research

In today’s world, filled with the sounds of jet planes, rock music, sirens and heavy machinery, it is common for expectant mothers to describe movement by unborn babies in response to these types of sounds. However, in quieter times past, such movement related to sounds were not so commonplace. The first reports in the scientific literature describing a relationship between environmental sound and movements by the unborn did not appear until the early 1900′s. Physicians reported that pregnant women described fetal movements when they were exposed to car horns, loud concert music, and children striking the outside of free standing bathtubs . . . just as they were settling in for a nice relaxing bath. In the 1930′s, these reports were scientifically validated by Drs. Lester Sontag, Lawrence Wallace and other colleagues at the Fels Research Institute over the course of several investigations. They presented evidence that unborn babies, starting around the seven month of pregnancy, responded with increased movement and heart rates when exposed to loud sounds or vibrations and those responses became more consistent as the unborn babies became older. The next land mark investigation in the field of intrauterine learning was conducted in 1948 by Dr. D. K. Spelt, the first to show that the unborn could be conditioned in the womb; the earliest indication of a simple form of learning. This was similar to Pavlov’s famous work, conditioning dogs to salivate to the sound of a bell. By placing different vibrators on expectant mother’s abdomens, Dr. Spelt explored various intensities to distinguish between vibrations which elicited a movement and heart rate response in the unborn babies and those which did not.
Having determined a vibration which did not elicit a response, he began the actual experiment. By first making a loud noise with a “clapper” (also known to create a heart rate and movement response in the unborn) immediately followed by applying the non-stimulating vibration to the abdomen, and repeating this “pairing” of loud sound with the non-stimulating vibration, he found that with as few as fifteen pairings, the vibration alone would then elicit between five and eleven responses from the unborn babies. This was the earliest evidence that enough of the brain was functioning to allow this type of learning to occur. There was little concentrated research in the area until the late 1960′s, when European fetal audiologists developed an interest in determining if babies could hear before birth. They knew that unborn babies responded to loud sounds outside the womb, but because sound is really a vibration, it was not known if the babies were responding because they heard the sounds or because they sensed the vibrations. (Turn your stereo up quite loud and put your hand just in front of a speaker to feel how sound vibrates.) After many complex studies, it was established that the unborn child responded not only to vibration but also that sound was being heard. These conclusions were reached based on the many scientific controls used, and the reasoning that because there was fetal, response to high frequency sounds (2000 hertz), which vibrate at a level virtually undetectable to adults, these sounds must have been heard rather than felt.

Learning about Natural Womb Sounds

Also in the 1960’s, Dr. Lee Salk provided the first evidence that babies were learning about the natural beating sounds of the womb (which he at the time called the beat of the maternal heart). When heartbeat sounds were played to babies throughout their stay in the hospital nursery, they showed greater weight gain (with the same amount of food) than those babies not hearing the sounds. The “heartbeat” babies also showed more stable and regular physiological functioning and cried less than the control babies. Although these results have been questioned by some scientists, there has been substantial follow up research evidence to confirm the overall calming effect of intrauterine-like sounds on newborns.

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Learn about Mom’s Voice

Another fascinating project conducted in 1973 by Drs. William Condon and Louis Sanders of Boston University Medical Center, demonstrated how newborns responded with specific and consistent micro movements (undetectable to the naked eye) to speech sounds from their mothers. An analysis of high-speed film showed very small and fast movements of various body parts to different speech sounds (phonemes). For example, every time the soft sound of “a” was spoken by a particular mother, her baby would flick the index finger on the left hand. In the study, each baby showed different movements to the same sounds but the specific movement was always the same for that particular baby. For some babies, this type of unseen activity occurred within two hours after birth. Although all the babies had heard their mother’s voice after birth, the researchers wondered if such complex behaviors could be possible with such limited exposure to mom’s voice after birth.
Another fascinating project conducted in 1973 by Drs. William Condon and Louis Sanders of Boston University Medical Center, demonstrated how newborns responded with specific and consistent micro movements (undetectable to the naked eye) to speech sounds from their mothers. An analysis of high-speed film showed very small and fast movements of various body parts to different speech sounds (phonemes). For example, every time the soft sound of “a” was spoken by a particular mother, her baby would flick the index finger on the left hand. In the study, each baby showed different movements to the same sounds but the specific movement was always the same for that particular baby. For some babies, this type of unseen activity occurred within two hours after birth. Although all the babies had heard their mother’s voice after birth, the researchers wondered if such complex behaviors could be possible with such limited exposure to mom’s voice after birth.

These then were the most significant studies available when our research began.

As you can see, a wide variety of research provided evidence that the unborn baby:

  1. Was hearing during the last trimester of pregnancy.
  2. Could be conditioned in utero and
  3. Perhaps was capable of more complex forms of intrauterine learning. But the entire picture remained unclear.

Scientifically Controlled Intrauterine Learning Research

One problem which surfaced from the hearing literature was the fact that unborn babies responded inconsistently to external sound stimulation. To examine this more closely, Dr Jeffrey Phelen, and myself (Dr. Brian Satt), working at the University of Southern California, County Women’s Hospital, attempted to elicit a response from unborn babies by stimulating them with short bursts of high frequency pure tone sounds. We, too, found an inconsistency in response. But by closely examining the heart rate patterns and movement responses, we began to understand that unborn babies were not responsive to these bleeps of sound when they were in a sleep state and were more consistently responsive when they were in an awake or active state. These babies were also more responsive, regardless of their sleep/awake state, when they were stimulated with music rather than the bleeps of pure tone sounds. Having established a sound level at which babies were most consistently stimulated by external sound, the primary intrauterine learning research was begun. This study was designed to determine if unborn babies could actually learn a 30 second melody sung by their mothers. To test for this, each of sixteen mothers learned and recorded two, thirty second songs (Womb Song A and Womb Song B). Each mother played one of the Womb Songs to her unborn baby during the last two months of her pregnancy and the other recorded Womb Song was retained for safe keeping. Half the mothers used Womb Song “A” as their teaching song and the other half used Womb Song “B”. Within the first week after birth and with no postnatal exposure to the Womb Song, the testing session was conducted. The babies were allowed to suck on a specially designed pressure sensitive pacifier.

This nipple was connected to a computer which monitored their sucking and then controlled the playing of two tape recorders, each containing one of the two Womb Songs recorded by the mother of the baby being tested — the Womb Song and the control song which had been safely stored. With this arrangement, the babies had complete control over which song was played and how long it played based on how they sucked on the pacifier (the length of each pause taken between sucking bursts controlled which song was played).

When the testing was concluded and sixteen babies had been tested, there was evidence of a strong trend. The babies were showing a preference for hearing the Womb Song rather than the control song, regardless of which lullaby had been used as the Womb Song. Thirteen of the sixteen babies had altered their sucking so they could “once again” hear the familiar Womb Song, the song they had heard many times before birth. At the conclusion of this study, it was evident that unborn babies heard sounds produced outside the womb and were capable of learning a 30 second melody repeated during approximately the last two months of pregnancy and also, showed a desire to hear the Womb Song after birth. But other scientific evidence of intrauterine learning capabilities would be needed to substantiate these findings. After writing about the many implications of these findings, a nagging question persisted: “What did these Womb Songs really sound like to the unborn babies?” “How did they actually perceive the music?” After all, the sound had to pass through tissues and fluids, then compete with the other naturally occurring sounds in the womb. After several discussions, it was proposed that we attempt to make actual recordings from within the womb to answer this most provocative question. We agreed to pursue these recordings and began to work on a highly specialized recording.


The French Work

Soon after starting this new research project an article appeared in Time Magazine about a French obstetrician/gynecologist who had made actual recordings of sounds within the womb, and more importantly, the sounds from within included sounds produced outside the womb. Unfortunately, there was no identifying information about the researcher, no address, not even a name and calls to Time Magazine proved fruitless. Soon after the article appeared, a trip to France turned up this heretofore-nameless Time article researcher, Dr. Denis Querleu, a professor at a university hospital in Roubaix. Dr. Querleu and his colleagues had conducted two significant pieces of research in the area of intrauterine learning.

The first study was similar to previous work on newborns preferring their mother’s voice over a stranger’s. They examined the same learning phenomena using a different testing condition, one with a very significant distinction. In the earlier work, Drs. DeCasper and Fifer could only speculate that the newborns had learned about their mother’s voices in utero because there had been an average of 12 hours of postnatal exposure.

In Dr. Querleu’s work there was no exposure to the maternal voice after birth, as the babies were tested at about two hours of age. Rather than a sucking response, they analyzed the babies’ body response to hearing their mother’s voice and a stranger’s voice (matched for specific qualities) calling the baby’s name. The researchers were focusing on how much the baby turned, or oriented to the adult voices. This orienting response can be viewed several ways; the baby turning his head; looking in the direction of the voice; turning of the body towards the voice, etc. Their findings revealed that the newborns showed a complete orientation to their mother’s voice 45% of the time, as opposed to only 16% for the unfamiliar voice.

They concluded that the newborns must have learned about the intonational patterns of their mother’s voices, and that this learning must have occurred before birth, because they had not heard their mother’s voice after birth.

Dr. Querleu’s second interesting research study examined the sound environment of the womb. They found that external voices and music could be clearly heard inside the womb. And yes, they made fascinating recordings to demonstrate this phenomenon. In examining voice clarity, they determined that an adult’s ability to recognize what was actually said was very difficult at best and most often impossible. When the phonemic (small parts of speech, like syllables but smaller) components of the words were examined, they found that only about 30% were identifiable. Vowel sounds, in particular, were the most difficult to identify.

The intonational patterns of the voices, however, were extremely clear: the pitch, rhythm, texture, and contours of the voice were transmitted almost perfectly to the womb. For example, if three people in a room were talking, each of the different voices could be accurately recognized and identified. This can be most clearly understood by listening to music recorded from within the womb (which you will have an opportunity to do in Inside the Womb, if you have not already done so). The exact notes and melodies are clearly present and easily recognizable. From personal contact with Dr. Querleu, two gifts were received: an actual recording of intrauterine sounds and the knowledge that he and his group had additional evidence documenting the phenomena of intrauterine learning.

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Confirming Studies

Shortly after completion of the intrauterine learning Womb Song research, Drs. DeCasper and Spence presented another prenatal learning study. Expectant mothers were instructed in how to use their natural voice to read a nursery rhyme aloud during the last months of their pregnancy. Using the newborn sucking response, they too found that the babies would change their natural sucking pattern to enable them to hear the familiar “womb rhyme” rather than another rhyme also read by mother.

Finally, in a slightly later study by Drs. Panneton and DeCasper, they used music as the prenatal teaching source and the same sucking set-up as the test modality. Their findings replicated those of our original work with Womb Songs. Babies preferred to hear the music that they had been exposed to before birth. At this point, quite a collection of research is indicating that in fact, intrauterine learning can occur and that baby can learn about both voice patterns and some other sounds coming from outside the womb. It must be kept in mind though that the learning being documented in these studies involves very limited types of learning. It would be incorrect to generalize this information, thinking that the unborn baby can learn about a great many things or very complex stimuli, such as long pieces of music. curly-border

Womb Recordings

After more than a year of development, the microphone and recording systems to make intrauterine recordings became a workable, entirely safe system. The first recording was made in March of 1986 at the University of Southern California County Women’s Hospital. Alexander Graham Bell’s excitement of discovery could not have been greater than ours! The clarity of external sounds recorded from within the womb was absolutely astounding. It was so good that we first believed something was wrong with the system and that somehow external sounds were being picked up directly, not from the womb. Sounds such as a foot tapping on the floor, a finger being snapped, voices from 15 feet away and even the squeaky wheels of supply carts going down the hallway outside the closed room were clearly audible. Almost anything which could be heard in the room was also heard from the womb. After numerous precautions were taken and tests were conducted (both in the laboratory and the delivery room), it was concluded that the sounds being recorded were coming strictly from the womb. The evidence of sounds in the womb was now indisputable, as demonstrated by both the French and now these recordings. It was apparent how and why unborn babies could hear and learn about music before birth. You’ll hear for yourself within the next chapter, “The Womb Journey.”


In Summary

The research evidence is now consistent, validated and cross validated. Thus far it has been demonstrated that:

  1. The womb is almost transparent to sounds within the immediate environment of the expectant mother.
  2. Sounds directed at the abdomen are transmitted more clearly than random sounds.
  3. Unborn babies have the capability of hearing sounds sometime during the last three months of pregnancy.
  4. The naturally occurring womb sounds are heard and learned before birth.
  5. Mother’s voice is experienced and learned before birth.
  6. A melody presented in the appropriate fashion during pregnancy can be learned and remembered after birth.
  • It will soon be time to put this valuable information to good use by creating your own Womb Song and teaching your baby by reading about Musical Bonding. But first, a unique journey into the womb so that you can fully experience and appreciate what life before birth might be like.
  • A Day In the Life of the Unborn Baby: Inside the Womb Audio
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