Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Take on Prenatal Stimulation

"The human body is such a miracle and even more of a miracle is the brain that runs it... Want some examples? If you happen to be pregnant at this moment and happen to know that you are, try looking at your watch for one minute. Do you know what happened during those sixty seconds? At the end of the sixty seconds, your baby had a quarter of a million more brain cells than he had when you began counting, sixty seconds earlier.
-Glenn Doman, How to Teach Your Baby to Be Physically Superb

I am continually amazed by the miracle of human development.

When I first began discovering the incredible world of early learning three and a half years ago via Glenn Doman, this also led to the discovery of the interesting, semi-related topic of "in utero learning", or prenatal stimulation.


While I recognize that the unborn human infant is most definitely a living, learning, thinking, growing, and incredible creature, I am leery of most commercial "prenatal stimulation" products promising, usually: smarter, more alert, better-sleeping, better-nursing, faster-developing, calmer, happier newborns, without any real basis for their claims.

BabyPlus comes to mind, for example. The devise promises all these results and more, by playing different heartbeat-style sounds for your baby for two hours a day. The website is filled with fanatical parent testimonials, but as I read I began to wonder - how do the parents know a difference versus what their baby would have been like without the $150 sound box? Isn't this a classic example of "placebo effect"?

I am not entirely critical or skeptical of the idea that playing heartbeat sounds could one day be found to be somehow beneficial to the baby (the idea is that the baby learns to differentiate between his mother's heartbeat and the artificial heartbeat, supposedly making him more aware of his surrounding and stimulating curiosity in his environment).

But for a product to make such hefty claims, boasting everything from babies that nurse better to heightened school readiness, seems to me to smell a little of snake oil.

The idea of unborn babies learning to differentiate sounds seems like it's pretty obviously already happening - the differences in mother's heartbeat when she is resting, vigorously active, or somewhere in between; the difference of the intestinal sounds as mother digests different foods or when the digestive system is at rest; the different sounds of mother's blood flowing at different rates; the sound of his own self as he swooshes around in the womb; and, of course, all the different external sounds that he hears, from music to voices to the sound of traffic, or the difference in the noise level at daytime and night. Differentiation of sounds for the unborn doesn't seem to me like something BabyPlus invented.

Stimulation I Believe In

What shall we say then? Is the idea of influencing the unborn child laughable, or is there merit to any these techniques?

I understand and recognize from the growing amount of research how much of a "little person" unborn children are, everything from being able to dream, play, acquire tastes for certain foods, and enjoy Cat in the Hat. Unborn babies can hear, see light, feel, taste, and even smell. At birth they recognize their mother's voice and even can distinguish and prefer their native language. Certainly, learning is happening long before baby makes his exit from the womb.

So what is my take? I...

Talk to my baby  We all do. Mom, dad, and big brother. He's never too young to benefit from hearing language, and he is learning to recognize our voices, which will hopefully be a comfort and familiarity when he makes his entrance.

Play cause and effect  When he kicks, I like to gently poke back. And talk to him. It is a fun give-and-take little game, and often it actually seems like he is playing with me. Theoretically, he is learning about cause and effect, but I'm sure he is already learning about this in other ways too. I just see it as a fun bonding experience.

Play great music  No, I don't strap headphones to my abdomen. But since music, especially classical, is so beneficial to everyone, it certainly can't hurt to expose him to it now. Hunter listens to it daily already every afternoon for several hours, so little guy gets to get in on it too. Currently, we are on Tchaikovsky.

Read  Again, baby boy #2 gets in on the reading I do with Hunter every afternoon. Also, the "baby's chapter" is Proverbs chapter 3 (the first 24 verses), which we read every night. I got the idea from someone I read about who used to read Proverbs 3 to their boys and Proverbs 31 to their girls on the day of their birth. To me this is more preferable than the Cat in the Hat, and hopefully the baby will not only benefit from the beautiful language currently, but will recognize "his" proverb when I continue to read it to him nightly as he grows.

Even with these "stimulating" these that I do do, I still believe that the most important gift, advantage, and interaction I can give my baby is giving my body (and his) the proper nutrients (and keeping out as many toxins as possible), exercising regularly, and avoiding stress.

All these "stimulating" things are fun and I do know that my baby is already learning from his environment (with or without my help), but nothing can compare to the gift of health (which includes a healthy brain)! 

"For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy." 
Luke 1:44

Baby boy #2 is 25 weeks, 0 days gestation


  1. I just came across your blog and am loving it! I really like your homemade flashcards and was wondering what size paper you use and what is the name and size of the font you use? I have a 3 year 8 month old and a 1 and a half year old. I have been teaching the older one to read with phonics but want to start introducing Doman flashcards because his progress seems slow. I actually want to start from scratch with my younger one with the Doman flashcards..any advice would be much appreciated..keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for your comment. For reading words, I prefer to simply print mine out of the computer on 8x11 paper (card stock). I generally use half page prints for younger kids and third page prints for older kids (older being maybe 2+). I print them horizontally (landscape).

    I don't think that the font matters quite as much, although I usually will use a no-nonsense, simple font such as Arial.

    I also use 8x11 paper for printing encyclopedic knowledge cards (versus the recommended 11x11 - again too time consuming).

    Good luck and happy teaching!

  3. I love your blog and I agree about PreNatal "products". I think that prenatal care should begin and end with the mom taking great care of herself physically, mentally and spiritually, indulging in a hobby regularly and finding something invigorating and satisfying to study. I wrote about it on the BrillKids forum.

  4. When you initially started with your son did you use home-made reading cards or buy the official Doman ones? What words/topics did you start with and how old was your son when you started the programme? My 18 month old doesn't talk yet, but understands instructions clearly. Also how long was it before your son started to read back the cards? Sorry for so many questions, but I don't know anyone else I can ask and your son seems to be doing very well. Thanks in advance.

  5. @anonymous, when I found out about Doman my son was 2.5, I made all of my own materials. To be honest reading wasn't our strong area at that point, we mostly focused on math and encyclopedic knowledge in the beginning.

    However our first words were focused on family member and pet names. There were at least 40 "name" words that he learned (we have a big extended family). We did many other words but they were often without much rhyme or reason, often times they would be based on certain books. He learned at least 100 words and was exposed to many more before I introduced phonics at age 3.5. He read many of the words back to me, but he was older, I know younger kids often don't show signs of knowing the words for a while. I'm sure he could have learned to read learning the Doman method exclusively but like I said it wasn't our strong area so it wasn't as consistent.

    With this next baby I would like to be more systematic in reading, I believe Doman suggests starting out with names, body parts, and familiar objects (thing around the house, nature, possessions, clothes, etc.) Walking around your house, or looking at a "first 1000 words" book would give you some ideas. I hope to introduce on my blog many reading words lists as I come up with them for my new baby, as well as printable flash cards, but it may be a little while.

    I hope this was helpful to you, good luck and thank you for your interest.

  6. Thank you for your insights. I agree. Of course there is interaction with the baby before they are born, and they are learning, but we couldn't justify a $150 purchase towards that end. I became interested in prenatal stimulation with my third pregnancy, but I figured that the reading and music that I did with his older siblings was enough. Keeping up with them and their education was enough for me!
    I think that the best thing you can do for the pre-born is to love them and to keep yourself healthy.


Thank you for your comments!