Plenty of research has touted the benefits of talking to young children for the purposes of vocabulary development. But a recent study from Vanderbilt University suggests that a mother’s voice can be powerful even before children are capable of understanding speech.
Babies born too early often have a great difficulty with feeding; one of the big hurdles they must cross before being discharged from the hospital is learning to eat without a feeding tube. In an attempt to reduce the learning curve, doctors worked with music therapists to develop an innovative incentive for premature babies. The mothers of 94 preemies were recorded singing lullabies. Then, pacifier-activated music players were placed in the babies’ cribs for 15 minutes each day during a five-day trial. When the infants sucked on the pacifiers correctly—that is, in a way that “trained” them to eat independently—they were rewarded with the song. If they stopped sucking, the music stopped. Babies who participated in the study learned to suck the pacifiers much more quickly and were ready to have their feeding tubes removed about a week earlier than the control group.
The results speak volumes about the bond babies feel with their mothers long before they’re able to express it. Although maternal speech seems simple, it appears that their mother’s voice is a potent stimulus for babies, likely even for those born full-term.