When Do Babies Start To Hear?

If you are filled with questions like 'can babies hear in the womb?’ or ‘what is the best classical music for a baby’s brain development?’, then read on to learn more about your newborn’s hearing!

By Vidya Nesarikar  • 9 min read

When Do Babies Start To Hear?

In the great epic Mahabharata, Abhimanyu is still in the womb of his mother Subhadra, when he listens to Chakravyuha’s military technique from his uncle Lord Krishna. Even when his mother falls asleep, Abhimanyu continues to hear, making appropriate listening sounds making his uncle think it was Subhadra who was listening all along.

While the Mahabharata is said to have been written over 3000 years ago, recent scientific findings have proven that babies inside the womb can indeed hear the sounds of the outside world.

When do babies begin to hear?

A baby’s ears and eyes begin to develop as early as the second month of pregnancy. This is the period during which rapid cell formation takes place and the cells begin to group themselves into the various facial organs that they will eventually become.

Around the ninth week of your pregnancy, small bud-like indentations start to form along the neck of the foetus. These are your baby’s ears, which continue to rapidly develop on the inside as well the outside.

Around the 18th week, your baby will be able to hear her first sounds! Between the 24th and-27th week, those cute little ears will steadily develop more and more – that is the outside, middle and inner ear. Consequently, your baby’s hearing ability also improves with each passing day. And when your little one hears a sound; she is likely to respond to it.

Hearing Development Timeline In The Womb According To Healthline:

4-5 weeks: Cells in embryo start to group themselves into the facial organs such as nose, ears and eyes.

9 weeks: Buds begin to protrude where the ears will grow.

18 weeks: Baby begins to hear.

24 weeks: Baby’s sensitivity to sound increases.

25-26 weeks: Baby responds to outside sound.

What are the first sounds an unborn baby can hear?

In the womb, the first sounds that your little one hears are the ones created by your body. Though you may not be aware of these, your baby can hear the sound of your heartbeat, your stomach digesting food, your lungs filling up with air, the vibrations of your voice and so on.

Around the 24th to 27th weeks, the baby begins to respond to sounds from outside the womb. If you want to sing to your child, this is a good time to start doing that.

You must take into consideration that a baby is in the womb under layers of skin and fat and suspended in amniotic fluid. The outside sounds would be muffled. To understand this, try listening to sounds when underwater in a swimming pool. The world around you will sound muffled.

What is pregnancy music or music for unborn babies?

There are many music CDs and playlists marketed to pregnant women claiming to contain music for baby’s brain development. These compilations mostly comprise soothing music. And though there has been a lot of buzz that such music, especially classical music increases the baby’s brain development, there is in fact been no proven research in the field. However, if you are pregnant, creating a soothing and relaxed environment with pleasant sounds is always recommended. When you are happy and feel relaxed, it creates a positive environment for your unborn child too. It’s that simple!

So, go ahead and play some happy tunes (no heavy metal and jarring music). It is good to remember to keep the volume to about the level of 50 – 60 decibels. For reference, this is the volume of a normal conversation.

Further, it is not recommended to place ear plugs or headphones on your belly. The amniotic fluid reverberates and amplifies noise so close to the belly, and thus best to avoid. Also, the distance between the belly and the baby is not much either.

Bear in mind, that the best music to a baby’s ear is the mother’s voice. According to a research paper “Language experienced in utero affects vowel perception after birth” by Christine Moon, Hugo Lagercrantz, and Patricia K Kuhl, published in Acta Pædiatrica in 2012, state that babies in the womb can hear their mother’s voice in the final trimester. So, go ahead talk and sing to your child – and don’t worry about being out of tune!

How sensitive are an unborn baby’s ears and how much noise can they bear?

If you are exposed to a highly noisy environment like at your workplace, consider changing your department or job to be safe. Although a one-off exposure to a noisy environment such as an occasional movie in the cinema hall or a concert, will not damage your unborn baby’s hearing. But continuous exposure to such noises is best avoided.

How long does it take for newborn babies’ hearing to develop to an adult’s level of hearing?

Though your baby’s ears are well-developed at birth, it may take about six months before they reach the hearing level of an adult. This is mainly because the parts of the brain that are responsible for hearing are still developing until that point.

What can newborns hear?

Your baby can hear a loud noise from day one. By the end of the first month, he will begin to turn when he hears your voice or other familiar sounds such as family members or lullabies. From the time they are six months of age to one year, based on each child’s development progress, he will be able to hear and track sounds coming from different directions, like from behind or across the room. Babies perceive high-pitched sounds better, such as the female voice. Perhaps this is why adults talk to babies in high-pitched ‘baby’ voices when they engage with them – unknowingly – because they get a better response!

When should you be worried about your baby’s hearing ability?

“After your baby is born, If you doubt that your newborn is not responding to any sound –does not flinch when he hears a loud sound like the door slamming or does not turn his head when he hears your voice at the end of the first month, meet your paediatrician,” says Bangalore based Dr. J. Shivananda, a noted ENT specialist. “Speech and hearing are co-related, if your baby is not cooing at you and making babbling sounds in the 4-6 month period, that is another warning sign. Use your instinct, if you feel there is something amiss; do not hesitate to talk to your doctor. 

This article has been validated by Dr Santosh N, MBBS,MD, Consultant Neonatologist & Pediatrician, Apollo Cradle Jayanagar, Bangalore.

Also read: When Do Babies Start To See?

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