Mothers’ Sounds Are Building Block for Babies’ Brains


reprinted from the New York Times

The sound of a mother’s voice plays a critical role in a baby’s early development, multiple studies have shown. Now, researchers have demonstrated that the brain itself may rely on a mother’s voice and heartbeat to grow.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston studied 40 babies born eight to 15 weeks prematurely. Like most severely premature babies, the infants were confined to incubators and spent limited time with their mothers.

“Preemies born this early are basically fetuses that happen to be out there by accident,” said Amir Lahav, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the study.

Using tiny speakers placed inside the incubators, half the babies were exposed to the sounds of their mothers’ voices and heartbeats for three extra hours every day. The other half received no additional exposure to such sounds.

After 30 days, babies in the first group had developed a significantly larger auditory cortex — the hearing center of the brain — than those in the second group. The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help guide doctors and parents caring for premature babies, who often suffer from developmental and cognitive disabilities.

“This is part of the biological recipe for how you cook a baby,” Dr. Lahav said. “Any deviation from original recipe” could result in developmental problems, he added.

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