At a music conference organised by UNESCO, the world famous educator and musicologist, Zoltán Kodály, responded to the question “When should music studies begin?” by saying “nine months before birth”. Afterward, he restated his response by saying “nine months before the birth…of the mother”.

Playing music during pregnancy is currently thought to play an important role in the communication between mother and child and also helps to calm the baby and stimulate its senses.

When should one start listening to music during pregnancy?

Everything that is positive for the mother will also be positive for the baby and therefore listening to music during pregnancy is considered beneficial. The foetus has constant and uninterrupted connection to the physical and emotional state of its mother: through their actions, internal heart or breathing rates, the biochemical changes that the mother experiences according to whether she is calm or upset, etc. For this reason, it is recommended to remain calm, optimistic and healthy as it undoubtedly affects the development of the embryo.

As the foetus matures, its hearing is the most dominant sense in the pre-natal phase. Acoustic stimulation that the foetus receives is more diverse than the other sensory stimulations (visual, touch, smell and taste). The auditory system begins to develop as early as 22 days after conception and ends around 25 weeks. Also, the eighth cranial nerve, which transfers the auditory information to the brain, develops first.

Even before it is able to hear sounds, the embryo is capable of feeling the sound stimuli. This means that even though it may not be hearing the music, it can still perceive the vibration through the amniotic fluid.

The foetus hears more internal sound stimuli and less external stimuli in their environment. This means that the first sounds it may hear are its own heart beat as well as its mother’s heart beat and voice. After doing some simple calculations and considering that a normal pregnancy of about 30 weeks contains approximately 28 million heart beats, it is not uncommon to learn that babies find the sound of heart beats relaxing after birth.

So, is music beneficial during pregnancy?

In addition to the positive effects that music has for the mother, music directly affects the foetus after the fifth month as it provides some of the most beneficial effects for hearing stimulation and brain development.

Music consists of structured vibrations; oppositely it would simply be sound. The human brain functions based on neuronal connections that store and remember structured information more easily. As a result, music allows the immature foetus brain to form itself in a more structured and harmonious way.

Moreover, now that we have established that music can be beneficial during pregnancy, we need to decide what kind of music to choose. We have all most likely heard at one point that classical music is the most beneficial and preferably we should listen to Mozart, but is classical music actually the most beneficial?

Although certain studies show that Mozart’s music is relaxing and Brahms’ music makes you more agitated and anxious, these results are simply generalisations. There are many more options to consider since music is statistically more calming when the rhythm is harmonious, less jarring and played with instruments such as piano, flute, harp, etc. It is also helpful to have a lack of percussion and be played at a medium to low volume at a tempo less than a normal heartbeat. The music also needs to pleasant for the person listening and repeating the same music has also proven to be positive.

The Mozart effect supposedly produces effects while listening to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This effect is a generalisation of a study carried out with young university students and not with babies. The results showed a temporary improvement in their visual-spatial abilities after listening to Mozart. Afterwards, the experiment was carried with other music styles testing the same effects as long as the music that was being used was pleasant to the person listening.

Although studies still debate the reality of the “Mozart effect”, we can conclude that the most appropriate music to play before birth is music that makes the mother feel good. If it makes the mother feel good, the baby will also feel good.

What do you think about playing music before birth? Do you have any interesting experiences to share? Leave a comment below!

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