Premature babies experience a certain underdevelopment at the level of their brains. A new study, however, shows that the mother’s voice helps boost the development of the brain for these babies.
The mother and child link is one of the most intense and precious relationships humankind has ever known. The life starting inside the body of a woman is protected inside her womb where it feels safe, hearing the mother’s heart beating from the inside and getting accustomed to her in an extremely intimate way.
The closeness that develops between mother and child is indeed beneficial to the foetus – the relationship itself is a protection so much so that even after birth, the mother is able to soothe the child in extraordinary ways. A new study has brought forth yet another miraculous aspect of the link existing between the two. The findings that have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveal that the mother’s voice protects the premature baby beyond the womb.
Of the 15 million premature babies born worldwide, 1 million cannot be saved. Those who do survive have a greater risk of developing health complications because of the underdevelopment of the brain. The new research shows how the mother’s voice can help counter these predicaments. Hearing the sound of the mother’s voice equips the baby to deal with the neurodevelopmental problems.
“Brain development is largely shaped by early sensory experience,” said the authors. “However, it is currently unknown whether, how early, and to what extent the newborn’s brain is shaped by exposure to maternal sounds when the brain is most sensitive to early life programming.”
The researchers studied 40 extremely premature babies born between 25 to 32 weeks of gestation. Ultrasounds of their brains were taken when they were born and the infants were followed up until their first month. It was found that those babies exposed to recordings of their mother’s voice when they were in their incubators had more developed auditory cortices than those babies who were not made to hear the sound recordings.
“Results show that newborns exposed to maternal sounds had a significantly larger auditory cortex (AC) bilaterally compared with control newborns receiving standard care,” explained the authors. “The magnitude of the right and left AC thickness was significantly correlated with gestational age but not with the duration of sound exposure.”
Furthermore, it was highlighted that it is not necessary that it is only the mother’s voice that has the positive effect on the infant. Possibly, the voices of the father and any other person the infant has been familiar with might generate similar effects. These factors constitute potential research material. The scientists also wish to explore whether this is much of a phenomenon in babies not born prematurely.
“Our results demonstrate that despite the immaturity of the auditory pathways, the [auditory cortex] is more adaptive to maternal sounds than environmental noise. Further studies are needed to better understand the neural processes underlying this early brain plasticity and its functional implications for future hearing and language development,” the authors conclude.