This was quite intriguing — an article written about a study into fetal memory. Basically, they looked at babies under ultrasound and played some sound outside the womb (a buzzer, like they typically use during biophysical profiles to startle the baby to see how his or her heartrate changes), and kept on buzzing until the baby no longer reacted; then they buzzed the baby again several weeks later, and the baby again didn’t react — possibly indicating that the baby recognized and remembered that sound.
That’s not too surprising to me, nor to a lot of other parents, particularly mothers. But it is refreshing to see science catching up. It also has some possible practical implications — in the opening of the article, it talked about a young woman who as an infant was best soothed by her mom singing the Aerosmith song “Angel.” And it turns out, that the mom had frequently played that song (and others), when pregnant with her — when the song came out. [I’ve got to insert here, completely unrelated, that it is still a huge shock to me, to see that this young woman was 21 years old, and was born in 1988 when “Angel” came out. That is just so wrong! NO! Babies born in 1988 are only, like, 5 years old! Right?? No?! Ok, so I feel old. Sigh… End non sequitur.]
Anyway, it sounds like this young woman as a fetus developed a memory for “Angel,” and when her mom sang it to her after birth, she was calmed by the familiarity of the song. So, pregnant women today might be able to intentionally do something similar — get a CD of some sort and play it frequently, and then remember to play it (or sing or hum songs from it) when the baby is fussy. Of course, it’s not guaranteed to work — especially every time the baby is fussy — but if it works sometime, that would be very cool.
It is known that babies can distinguish their mother’s voice best, and they also know the voices of people who were around the most when they were in utero — typically the father, older siblings, perhaps close friends and family who were in frequent contact with the mother. And I remember one story years and years ago — I can’t even remember for sure where I read it, but I think it was in Reader’s Digest possibly 20 years ago or so (which means that this could have been researched years and years ago, if somebody wanted to badly enough), of a man who would sing a particular song to his pregnant wife’s belly, and then soon after his baby was born, he started singing it to her, and she turned her head towards him. She remembered the song, or at least recognized his voice.
Actually, in a way, it seems like a no-brainer that babies remember. Of course they do! They know their mother’s smell, voice, and heartbeat from having those things all the time during pregnancy. Even leaving aside the hidden or latent memories that some people have when hypnotized, of being in utero themselves or newly born (I’ve read a few things that gave me chills, of young children matter-of-factly stating what happened to them just after birth, although they had never been told), it is nonsensical to suggest that memories only start happening at three or four years of age, or whatever is the earliest that the average person remembers. Of course we remember. We just forget later, as more and more memories are laid down, and the past becomes shrouded in the mists of time. Just like I don’t particularly remember more than a handful of meals I’ve eaten in my life — yet it is obvious that the effects (for good or for bad) are still with me, even so I don’t necessarily remember very much of my life prior to the age of three, but the pathways of memory stretch much further back than that.
This research reminds me of the research done into “infant pain” back in the 1950s or so. The assumption was that newborns don’t feel pain. I don’t know which idiots came up with that insanity, but they obviously fooled their teachers enough to be awarded the title of “doctor” — but they’re still idiots in my book, because they had no common sense. So, they’d stick babies with pins and note their “primal responses.” Um, yeah. How ’bout I stick you with pins and note your “primal response”? Of course, later, more open-minded research was done to show that the “primal response” of babies crying and flinching away from the source of the pain was, believe it or not, actually a pain response. Even later research has demonstrated that early third-trimester fetuses feel pain, just like premature infants (nothing magic about coming out of the mother’s womb — what the baby is after birth, it was before birth — only the location is different). This shouldn’t surprise anyone, particularly those who work with premature infants, and note their fragility and the need to keep them calm because handling and touching them can cause much bigger stress reactions than happens in term infants.
Maybe next time researchers have some bright, new idea, they should run it past a few mothers first. Because we’ve been right for generations. We’ve just been waiting for the brilliant researchers to catch up with our innate knowledge. 🙂