When you think of all the incredible changes that go into turning a fertilized egg into a newborn baby, how can you not feel awe? By the time most women realize they are pregnant, about five weeks after their last menstrual period, the embryo is already pretty complex. Shaped like a disk, it has an inner layer of cells that will go on to become most of the internal organs, a middle layer of cells that will form muscles and bones, and an outer layer that will become the skin and the neurons of the brain and spinal cord.
By eight weeks after conception (about ten weeks after the last menstrual period), all of the major organs have begun to form and the fetus is beginning to take on a human look. But it is still only two inches long and weighs about a third of an ounce.
Four or five months into the pregnancy, just about half way, marks the turning point. This is the time of quickening, when you first feel your baby moving. If an ultrasound has not been done, those little kicks and nudges may be the first palpable proof that there really is a baby in there, a thrilling moment!
Moving into the third trimester, after about twenty seven weeks, the name of the game becomes growth, growth and more growth. The baby’s length doubles, the weight triples. The brain grows even more quickly than that. At the same time, new behaviors appear. By twenty nine weeks of gestation, a baby will startle in response to a sudden loud noise, but if the noise repeats every twenty seconds or so, the baby soon ignores it. This behavior, called habituation, is evidence of the emergency of memory.
If a pleasant sound is repeated, say the sound of your voice reading poetry, your unborn fetus is likely to remember this too. After birth, babies choose to listen to their mothers voice over that of a stranger. If you have a favorite piece of music that you play over and over during the third trimester, chances are your baby will love it too, both before birth and after. Without a doubt, learning starts before birth. That is why it is rightly said that “Mothers Womb” is the first learning center for the baby.
But that doesn’t mean that you need to break out the flash cards along with the maternity clothes. Nobody has ever shown that special teaching adds anything to fetal learning. Instead, it’s the natural stimuli, the sound of your voice, and the rhythms of your body, that are most nurturing to development.