Small Talks, No. 95
February 17, 2023
Welcome to the ninety fifth edition of Small Talks. Every Friday, I highlight 6 areas of weekly joys and reflections in early childhood and the whole family. Small Talks leverages my experience at the intersection of education, philanthropy, and impact investing. Enjoy!
What I’m celebrating -
This week is dedicated to when we start learning. A reasonably new body of science referred to as “fetal origins” has challenged conventional thinking: Babies are not only born to learn, they are born learning. Learning starts in the womb. This has major implications on how we think about the pre-natal period and the expectant family-child relationships, thus the need for bonding before birth. It connects directly to advances in a related topic of “epigenetics,” which I will plan to cover next week.
The pioneer in this field is Dr. Tony DeCasper, psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who passed in 2017. He showed that a baby learns in the womb, recognizes its mother's voice, even her intonation, and the very book she's reading.
He conducted an experiment in which expectant mothers read "The Cat in the Hat" twice daily during the first six months of their pregnancy. After the babies were born, DeCasper tested their recognition by giving them earphones and a special pacifier that would play a recording of either the mother's voice reading "The Cat in the Hat" or a different voice reading "The King, the Mice, and the Cheese" when sucked on in a specific pattern. The results showed that the newborns only sucked in the correct pattern when they heard their mother's voice reading "The Cat in the Hat," demonstrating both their ability to learn and recognize their mother's voice, as well as the book she was reading while in the womb independent of their mother’s voice. They also prefer a familiar lullaby their mother sang during pregnancy over a new one.
Additionally, newborns exhibit a preference for classical or jazz music if their mother listened to either of these types of music twice a day in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy. Note that this preference can be detected in the later part of pregnancy at 34 weeks after conception but not at 28 weeks, implying that the learning of familiar sounds happens late in pregnancy and fetus formation.
Finnish researchers at the University of Helsinki gave pregnant women a recording containing made-up words like "tatata" and "tatota" along with music to play five to seven times a week from 28 weeks after conception until birth. By the time the babies were born, they had heard the made-up words more than 25,000 times. Remarkably, when these babies were tested after birth, their brains displayed neural signals for recognizing vowel changes in the middle of the made-up words. The signal was strongest in babies whose mothers had played the recording the most often.
While in the womb, babies start learning languages.
Premature babies mature faster when they their mothers’ voice, according to Harvard neuroscientist Amir Lahav. They are also at increased risk of low performance in mathematics and English language arts, as well as chronic absenteeism and suspension from school.delays.
Mahmee is a comprehensive maternity and infant care management platform that makes it easy for families to receive comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care.
Oula Health is redesigning maternity care from the ground up, combining the best of obstetrics and midwifery care to deliver a more evidence-based and personalized pregnancy experience.
What I’m listening to -
Parenting Before Birth by CBS News summarizes the importance of prenatal parenting.
Map Of The Developing Human Brain Shows Where Problems Begin by NPR summarizes latest advances in fetus brain science in detecting autism or schizophrenia.
What I’m reading
Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul summarizes the research on what we learn before we’re born. Also excellent TEDTalk below and summary article here.
What I’m watching -
In Utero is an excellent documentary summarizing the science of brain development prenatally.
What I’m learning more deeply -
Nurturing Starts Before Birth by Darcia Narvez.
Learning in the Womb by the Charlotte Lozier Institute.
A quote I’m pondering -
Feedback is a gift. Which part above is your favorite? What did I miss? What do you want more or less of? Other recommendations? Please kindly let me know. Thank to all of you who are sending me amazing suggestions.
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Have a wonderful week. Please stay safe and care for each other.