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Can Babies Learn In The Womb?

If you're thinking of having a baby you may be wondering if talking, reading, and playing music during pregnancy can give a child a good start in life. Just what your baby can learn before it is born is the focus on CBS This Morning's "Amazing Baby" series.

Vicki and Bob Foglia read aloud to each of their four children while they were in the womb. Bob believes it helped make them smarter.

"I believe it does, he says. "I think if they hear the language and get used to hearing words and different patterns and sentences, sure. I wouldn't discount anything. I think it's wide open research. I really think that it helped our kids."

Hethur and Gene Charlotte hope the Foglias are right. They are expecting their first baby, a boy, in December and have already been reading and talking to him. Charlotte explains:
"Anything I can do that will give him a leg up so to speak or a head start. This is a really important time. This is the beginning, and I really feel like this is important to make the most of it."

They also want to introduce their child to music. According to Gene: "I think the baby is definitely learning. When my mother was pregnant with me, she would sing this particular Beatles song every day. I don't necessarily like the Beatles, but this particular song -- I know it word for word. And the very first time I heard it, I was singing right along with it."

But will Gene and Hethur Charlotte's efforts pay off? Dr. William Fifer, Ph.D., is with the New York Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University: "There's no indication, no data whatsoever indicating it will be helpful to the fetus," he says.

For nearly 20 years, Fifer has studied how unborn babies react to certain sounds. "There is a little bit of data suggesting if a musical passage or phrase was repeated over and over and over again, the baby's brain was able to remember some part of that, but they're not learning anything about it. They're not learning the words or obviously the meaning of those words."

While there is recognition of sounds, music and voices, it won't increase the baby's IQ, according to Fifer. But he says there may be some benefit: "The value is to the parents. This is a way to begin to attach, to bond, if you will, to their infant before he or she is born. It's a very pleasant thing to do."

Parents can overdo it, especially with music, because a fetus sleeps 95 percent of the time. Fifer explains: "Extra stimulation is probably something the baby doesn't need, and more, in terms of waking the baby up when he or she shouldn't be woken upÂ… especially if you try to put the speaker on the abdomen because that could make the sound louder to the fetal ear."

Mothers don't have to make a special effort to talk to their babies while pregnant. Starting around the fift month, babies hear everything their mothers say anyway.

They're going to hear naturally occurring sounds", Fifer says, adding: "the mother's voice, the mother's heartbeat and some other sounds from the outside world."

We asked Fifer if there's anything they or any parents can do to increase their baby's potential before it's born. "If you want to do something to maximize your baby's potential while he or she is still in the womb, it would be to not be stressed out, to be laid back, to eat the right thing, to do the right things, and to think good thoughts, he says. "That's what we really think parents ought to be doing at this time and letting nature take its course."

By the way, Dad: The baby is also hearing your voice, assuming you are having frequent conversations with Mom.

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