Playing music for babies while they are still in the womb could boost their brain development, a new study suggests.
"Even though we've previously shown that foetuses could learn minor details of speech, we did not know how long they could retain the information," study author Eino Partanen, from the University of Helsinki, said in a journal news release.
"These results show that babies are capable of learning at a very young age and that the effects of the learning remain apparent in the brain for a long time."
In conducting the study, the researchers asked women in their third trimester of pregnancy to play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" at least five times per week.
A separate group of women did not play any music during their final trimester.
Shortly after birth, the researchers measured the infants' brain activity when they listened to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" as well as a similar tune with different notes in it, to determine if any learning had taken place. They repeated this assessment when the babies were four months old.
They found that when infants heard the song before birth, their brain activity was much stronger when they heard the original song than when they heard the modified version. The effect was still present when the babies were four months old.
The researchers said the period between the 27th week of pregnancy and six months after a baby is born is critical to the development of the auditory system.
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides more information on the human brain.