A Peek into Fetal Memory
Learning in Utero
Pregnant mothers the world over can often be found talking or singing
to their babies in the womb. But as tender as those moments may be, is
anyone besides Mom and Dad actually remembering them? New research says
A team of medical researchers in the Netherlands combined sonogram
technology with sound and vibration stimulation to discover that
30-week-old fetuses demonstrate short-term memory. By 34 weeks, these
babies in utero are able to store and retrieve that information up to
four weeks later, according to the study published in the medical
journal Child Development.
This research follows on the heels of similar studies conducted to
determine if a fetus can remember its mother’s voice. One such study
had mothers read Dr. Seuss’ famous Cat in the Hat twice a day to their
babies six weeks before birth.
Three days after birth, scientists were able to determine that not only
did the babies prefer the sound of their own mother’s voice, they also
preferred the sound of the story they had heard in utero to a new story.
Still other studies have found that fetuses exposed to theme songs or
other music tend to show recognition of those same songs shortly after
birth. Other studies show that newborns prefer the sound of the
mother’s native tongue to other languages.
The life of twins has also opened some unexpected vistas in the
exploration of learning and memory in the womb. In the National
Geographic special In the Womb: Twins, Triplets, and Quads, a twin
brother and sister were spotted through ultrasound technology playing
cheek-to-cheek on either side of the placenta. A year after birth,
their favorite game was to take positions on opposite sides of a
curtain, laughing and giggling as they touched and played through the
In another case of twins, one baby showed more aggressive behavior in
utero. Kicking, pushing, and hitting the other, who would retreat to
the far side of the womb. Four years later, whenever a fight breaks out
between the twins, the quieter one still retreats to his room and
closes the door.
Negative emotional states of the mother may also tell us something
about learning and cognition in utero. One Australian study found the
babies of pregnant mothers watching a 20-minute video of a disturbing
Hollywood movie also experienced emotional upset. When three months
after birth, the infants were briefly shown clips of the same film,
they showed recognition of prior exposure.
From thumb sucking, to cry-like behavior, to dreaming, and smiling, new
four-dimensional ultrasound technology has shown us more than we ever
imagined possible about human life in the womb. Now as studies continue
to unfold the mysteries of life in the womb, discoveries in learning
and memory are changing the way many see the fetus. These are stunning
reminders of the capabilities of the unborn—precious souls who are so
often denied their right to life.
Share these findings with those you know, and if they support abortion,
encourage them to revisit the issue. Each day science shows us more and
more to confirm what we already know—that the unborn are indeed
“fearfully and wonderfully made.”
That’s something all of us should remember.
Contact: Mark Earley
Date: August 25, 2009
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coordinating body for local pro-life chapters representing thousands of
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human family who are threatened by abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Diverse though we are, we hold one common belief - that
every human being has an inalienable right to life that is precious and must be protected. IFRL is
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