Friday, May 22, 2015

Psychology of Sound: How babies develop hearing and understanding

The first year of a baby's life is the most important in terms of development, and it's a fascinating time to learn about when considering the psychological implications of how our little ones understand and interpret the world around them. Hearing is the second of the five senses that your child will develop, and one of the most important for communication - so hopefully, this guide should give you a better understanding of how hearing develops, and how our children learn to react to different sounds in their environment!

The way a child reacts to sound is often determined by its early experiences as a foetus, so we'll start by taking a look at just how and when hearing starts, and what kinds of sounds can be heard in the womb.

Hearing development

The hearing organs start forming when a foetus is just three weeks old, starting at the inner ear and slowly building up to the ear canal, until eventually you'll be able to see the outer ears on an ultrasound image. This happens quite quickly - it's thought the auditory system becomes functional at around 25 weeks - so there's plenty of time for them to get used to the many noises detectable within the womb!

Hearing development also improves as the brain becomes more complex - any sounds the foetus hears will be created as new memory circuits, creating meaningful associations with each. A foetus can detect different moods and emotional responses to speech and music at around 36 weeks old, and will soon learn to distinguish between happiness, sadness, anxiety and peace.

What a foetus hears

By inserting a small hydrophone into the uterus of a  pregnant woman, researchers have found that even in calm, quiet environments the background noise in the womb is similar to that of a house or apartment. Common sounds included whooshing noises as the blood moves through adjacent vessels, gurgling from the stomach, and of course the heartbeat of the mother. The foetus can also hear the mother's speech, and will start tuning in to the voice, language and intonation - a feat that will have an impressive bonding effect between mother and baby once the child is born. A number of studies have been carried out on foetuses to find out exactly how they interpret sound while in the safety of the womb. We can detect reactions in the third trimester by monitoring the heartbeat under different conditions. This allows us not only to discover when the baby is agitated - for example by sudden noises - but also to find out what makes them most comfortable and relaxed. Tone is particularly important at this time; studies have found that foetuses respond to changes in pitch when music is playing, and are happier when they hear their mother speaking her everyday language rather than a foreign dialect with unfamiliar intonations.

Key sounds for soothing and calming

You can use your understanding of what foetuses hear in the womb to make them more comfortable, with just a few short steps each night. This won't just relax the baby now, but will also create a set of bonding associations that will continue even after the birth, allowing you to make a connection with your baby straight away. Here are some of the best things you can do to communicate with your bump:

Talk to them

While they won't be able to understand you, it's the tone and the comforting sound of your voice that makes this a simple yet effective way to soothe your baby during the last few weeks of pregnancy.

Read to them

Studies have shown that foetuses feel more relaxed when they are read the same book over and over again, indicating that memory is already relatively well-developed. Again, it's the tone rather than the content that counts - and your baby will have the same comforting association with the book of your choice even after birth! Do make sure you change it up occasionally though, to keep them engaged and give them plenty of new learning experiences while in utero.

After your baby is born, he or she will spend the first few weeks getting used to their new surroundings, and learning how to use their new sense of sight. During this time, familiar sounds and sensations are a good way of comforting them, and recreating the environment of the womb is a good way of comforting your baby when they seem agitated or overwhelmed. However, your baby's hearing will continue to develop until they are about six months old, so it's important to know exactly how it will improve and the effect this will have.

Hearing development

 While your baby will already have well-functioning ears at  birth, they'll continue to develop for the first six months, and you might notice in that time that your baby's preferences change. The reason for this is that they can hear a wider range of frequencies, and may be more susceptible to loud noises than they were before. The temporal lobe is also fully developing in this time, which is the part of the brain responsible for understanding sound, language and a whole host of other sensory stimuli - which is why you might find it a chore to get them to settle down in this time!

After around six months, your baby will have learned to detect where sounds are coming from, and within a year will be able to recognize and try to join in with favourite songs.

Your baby has a lot to learn in this first year - as well as the continued growth of many sensory organs, they'll also be trying to work out how to derive meaning from the sensory input around them. This can sometimes result in a little anxiety, but babies are well-prepared for this kind of sensory stimuli in their formative years, and you shouldn't worry unduly as they adapt to the world around them.

Source: Amplifon

Researchers at Harvard University Medical School recently reported their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finding that an expectant mother’s voice plays a vital role in the development of the language centers in a baby’s brain. According to the study, a mother’s voice provides “the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development.” Not only does talking to your bump help you to bond with your little one, but it actually helps his brain to grow!

The sole purpose of these blogs is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, prevention or cure of any disease. If you have any serious, acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained doctor/health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained Ayurvedic expert, call us or e mail.
Dr Unnati Chavda
(Promoting pregnancy wellness)




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