The entire line of Baby Mozart products is predicated on the studies of Dr. Alfred Tomatis in 1957, and a later study in the 1990s, indicating that classical music from composers like Mozart might positively influence the brain development of infants. Those studies resulted in thousands of pregnant moms pressing headphones to their bellies, and thousands more switching the playlists in their cars from Taylor Swift to Tchaikovsky. But is it actually true? Does music have a measurable effect on fetal and infant development?
A recent study by McMaster University suggested that very early musical training can benefit children. Researchers found that 1 year-olds who participated in interactive music classes with their parents smiled more, communicated better, and showed stronger brain responses to music. However, it’s not entirely clear how much of that benefit is the result of the music, and how much comes from participating in an interactive class with special attention from their parents.
One research study focused on the toddler response to music: researchers played classical guitar music prior to naptime at daycares and preschools. They found that the children fell asleep faster on the days when the music was played. Researchers credited the extra calm and relaxation to the steady, rhythmic qualities of the music.
The primary claim of baby music enthusiasts is that listening to Mozart will make your baby smarter. Is it actually true? Hard to say – in studies of rats completing mazes, the results have been promising, but this is hardly directly transferrable to humans. Other scientists have shown that music can prime the adult brain to perform at a higher level, but the response is only temporary. Some studies have shown that piano lessons can enhance spatial reasoning skills in children ages 3-4, but the results were not widely duplicated. Basically, the jury is still out on whether classical music can turn your baby into a genius.
Doctors in the neonatal intensive care unit of the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center conducted their own tests on premature babies. The study showed that premies exposed to music gained more weight, and enjoyed lower blood pressure and a stronger heartbeat after 4 days.
Though solid scientific evidence does not exist to support every purported benefit of music, it’s clear that soothing and rhythmic music can be pleasant and even helpful for infants and small children. However, a word of warning: loud music can be very damaging to fetuses and infants. Expectant mothers should NOT put headphones on their bellies, as amniotic fluid conducts sound almost too well. The in-utero baby can easily hear the mother’s voice and music played at a normal background level in the room. Unborn babies exposed to too much noise can actually be born prematurely with low birth weight and high-frequency sound loss. So if you do decide to play the classics for your baby, make sure to keep the sound turned down to gentle level.