The old wives’ tale is that playing Beethoven while pregnant somehow adds to the intelligence of the baby. Because the story has such legs, it is only right to investigate—where do these assertions come from? Although there is definitely no proven, direct link between music in the womb and the intelligence of the child, is there any scientific basis at all for the music rumor?

What Music Actually Does to the Baby in the Womb

Music has been shown to affect babies in the womb. Studies that have had music that was played while the baby was in the womb have shown that fetuses can hear the music. They will also move in reaction to the sound. However, experts have yet to determine what these movements really mean, mostly because it is not as easy to observe a baby in the womb. These limitations in observation have made it impossible to say that playing music while your baby is in the womb makes that baby smarter.

Where the Rumor Comes From

The studies that might have given legs to the notion of musical intelligence come from studies that observed babies that were already born. Gordon Shaw at the University of California at Irvine was the expert that aggregated all of the studies that showed that music was able to improve the mathematical skill of kids of all ages. Professor Shaw noted that the studies focused on older children rather than on fetuses, however. Janet DiPietro, another expert in the field of psychology at Johns Hopkins University, says that the conclusions that came from studies referring to music and newborns are purely anecdotal. She refuses to give any credence to even the research that Prof. Shaw refers to.

However, there are other scientists who have observed various aspects of fetuses responding to music in what seems to be an intelligent fashion. California obstetrician Rene Van de Carr says that he has observed a relatively mature fetus breathing to the pattern of a Beethoven symphony. However, critics of his research asked the question, “Why does breathing in time to a classical piece of music necessarily indicate intelligence?”

Playing Music for Your Own Child

Regardless of whether you believe the critics or the proponents of musical intelligence in the womb, there are no studies that show that music is bad for your child while in the womb. It can even prove a great way to pass the time in a way that helps the mother-to-be bond with her unborn child. Bed rest during pregnancy, which Dr. Gilbert Webb says some women undergoing high-risk pregnancies may benefit from, can be a good time to relax and play a few songs for your baby and yourself. If you want to play music for your child while you are pregnant, you should make sure that you do so safely.

Using headphones that are placed directly over the womb is not a good idea. The music is too loud, and it may overstimulate the fetus. People tend to think that the sound cannot get through all of the material in the womb; however, you must remember that sound actually travels more readily in thicker fluids such as water and the fluids that are in the amniotic sac.

In the late 1990s, the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that playing music too loud while a baby is in the womb may actually contribute to premature births and a lower birth weight. Many babies who have music played for them in the womb that is too loud may also suffer high frequency loss. In order to keep these things away from your baby, make sure that you never raise the volume of your stereo higher than 65 decibels. This is about the same volume as the background music in your neighborhood retail store.

The bottom line is that the research seeking to link music and fetuses (or debunk the link) is still in its infancy. If you believe the stories, make sure that you bring music into your baby’s life in a safe way.