Pre-natal learning - improving the intelligence of your baby during pregnancy




There seem to be quite a few articles on this subject dotted around the web, but all those I've come across are rather on the dry and technical side, so this page has been set up with the intention of providing an introduction to the concept of pre-natal learning, from the perspective of a Dad who has been there, done that, and would now like to encourage everyone to wear the (metaphorical) T-shirt.


I originally read an article on the subject in the scientific magazine Omni, some fifteen years ago. I was single at the time, and the issue was consigned to a box in the attic until I got married about 3 years later. (Actually, the magazine remained buried until fairly recently, but the basic ideas had stuck in my brain.) So when my wife announced that she was pregnant, something clicked in the old noddle and I set about making the necessary preparations.

What's the theory?

The basic premise is that a child's brain undergoes it's most rapid development during the foetal stage - on average, around half a million brain cells per minute, apparently! - and is therefore very susceptible to external influences throughout the pregnancy. (I could probably quote several experts from the magazine article, but I'm not very familiar with copyright law and would probably end up breaching something, so I'll have to skip them for now.) As any Mother will tell you, a newborn baby automatically recognizes it's mother's voice, however this is not instinctive as some people believe but in fact a natural consequence of hearing predominantly only the one voice for 9 months.

The articles suggested that it is possible to encourage faster growth in certain areas of a child's brain by exposing it to influences which would not normally be encountered until after birth. Specifically, allowing the baby to hear more structured use of the English language pre-natally (or any other language for that matter) promotes earlier development of the neural pathways which are responsible for processing speech, thus enabling the child to start understanding the spoken word that much sooner.

What does it entail?

The simplest way for me to describe this is to refer to the only detailed case study to which I presently have access, which is my own (and of course my wife's) experience: What I did was to record both sides of a standard 60 minute audio tape (contents detailed below), which my wife then played to the baby through an old personal stereo with the foam-covered ear-pieces laying on her stomach. We did this from about the 20-week point onwards. This was by no means a strict regime, usually she would do it last thing in the evening while laying in bed reading a book, but I'm sure this wasn't every night and that she didn't get through the whole tape each time. (But also bear in mind that pregnant women can get very tired very easily, and a first-time Mum will very likely possess a veritable library of "Mother And Baby" books & magazines, as did my wife.)

At the time, audio tape was the only convenient means of recording the sound-track. Technology has moved on a long way in 10 years or so, and most people probably haven't actually got a cassette recorder any more, but there are several other options now available. I believe the simplest of these is now MP3 players - details of how to record these are set out further down this page.

What to record?

I opted for a combination of phonetic patterns and nursery stories, alternating between them. Although I've long since misplaced the original tape, I recall that I started by reciting the alphabet by name and pronunciation, as in:

Ay, ahh, Bee, buh, Cee, kuh, Dee, duh

and so on - hopefully you can tell what I mean. Anyway, I then switched to reading the classic "Cat In The Hat" by Dr Seuss. I then counted slowly up to 100, followed by "The Cat In The Hat Comes Back". Then came the 1 to 12 times tables, and "Puss In Boots" (I didn't have any more of the excellent Dr Seuss at the time).

Why Dr Seuss?

Does is have to be Dr Seuss, you may ask? Probably not, but there are some good reasons to stick with him - "The Cat in the Hat" was written specifically as a reading primer, and 221 of the 223 distinct words therein are monosyllabic, making them easier for young children to recognise. A more detailed discussion of the books is available on Wikipedia. You can pick up the complete set of books on Amazon for under £25 (US$50), and "Green Eggs and Ham" or "Fox in Socks" would both be good candidates to replace my original choice of "Puss in Boots".

What if I don't want to or can't do it myself?

A quick Google for "pre-natal learning" reveals a number of commercial options such as "BabyPlus", although of course I can't recommend any of them as I'm not qualified to pass judgement; feel free to make your own decisions. The only disadvantage of these which occurs to me is that, if you record it yourself, your baby will come to recognise your voice, which is also comforting for them. Oh, and presumably they can only be used during the pregnancy, whereas the books can & will be enjoyed by your child long after birth.

Does it work?

Well, I'd hardly have bothered to set up this webpage if it had been a complete failure, would I? I must apologise if this section appears to be a self-congratulatory monologue about how clever our son is, I'll try to keep it as objective as possible but after all it is human nature to be a proud parent. The point which I am trying to get across here is that every child conceived from this moment on could be given this advantage.

At 4 weeks old, Ben was sleeping through the night. This obviously isn't something which is demonstrably attributable to the learning process, but it was certainly a blessing.

At 9 months Ben was talking - not using complete sentences, obviously, but using identifiable words in a meaningful context. From an early age he demonstrated an advanced manual dexterity and very good hand-eye coordination, for example coping very well with removing and replacing the (rotary screw-on) lid of his toothpaste at around 30 months. If this does not sound like such a big deal to first-time parents, I can only suggest that you pay closer attention to other children of the same age in nursery. Ben has also inherited an aptitude for and love of computers, although this was undoubtedly largely influenced and encouraged by myself, as I spend a lot of my work and leisure time in front of a PC. But be that as it may, at age 4 he was 100% au-fait with Windows 98, being able to install and run his own programs (no exaggeration!) as well as navigate the menu system and understanding the need to log off & log on with his own profile in order to get access to his own set of icons.

Ben is also a prolific reader, although this could also be attributed to post-natal parental influence - I made a point of reading to him for at least 15 minutes at bedtime every night. But the real concrete evidence of his advancement was provided when Ben entered state education in September 2001, aged 4 years and 10 months. At the suggestion of his school, we made an appointment with an educational psychologist in order to properly determine what level of reading material Ben should be working on, as he was getting bored and apparently disruptive in class. To our surprise and delight, we were told that he had a reading age of 8 years 3 months (this was 3 days after his 5th birthday) and an IQ of 134, which puts him in the top 1% of his age group - entry level for MENSA (the "High IQ" society) is 130.

Follow-up - 6 years later

Ben has been accepted into the local Grammar school (which only takes the top 1% of the county), having aced his SATs with scores of 134,140 and 140 out of a possible maximum score of 140 per test. He has maintained a reading age of between 3 and 4 years ahead of his actual age, but he's otherwise a perfectly normal, happy 11-year-old. He has consistently been at the top of his class, but Ben is not "genius material", and we have no intention of pushing him quickly through school or prematurely on to University - we feel that children should be allowed to enjoy their childhood, not rushed through it and thrown head-first into the adult world.

How to record your own MP3

Many mobile phones have a "voice recorder" option these days, so that's an easy option. If your phone doesn't offer this, you can do it on your PC instead: look on the Start menu under Programs, Accessories and (usually) Entertainment for an option called "Sound Recorder". (Under Windows Vista it's on the Start menu under All Programs then Accessories.) I'm sure that Linux and Macs will also have something similar, although I couldn't tell you where to find it. This will allow you to record via a microphone; if your PC doesn't have one built-in, you can pick one for a few quid on eBay, or in any electronics store such as Maplin, Comet or Dixons.

"Sound Recorder" is a bit on the basic side, you might prefer to use the excellent free Audacity, it doesn't cost anything and offers you more a lot more control over the editing of your soundtrack. It will also convert the WAV files created by Sound Recorder into MP3s, although many MP3 players will do this for you anyway.

Having created your soundtrack, you can then either load it onto your MP3 player, or perhaps burn it to an audio CD. Then play it back via headphones laid flat on Mum-to-be's bump - leave the volume set at a level which you would find comfortable when wearing the headphones yourself, it doesn't need to be loud. Don't be tempted to simply play it back via speakers, as although this would probably also work, you're more likely to get bored of listening to it yourself and hence you'll stop doing it for the wrong reasons.

About the author

To protect the privacy of my son and shield him from unwanted attention from his school-mates, I've deliberately avoided using our surname on this page. However I've nothing to hide and will be happy to enter into correspondence with anyone who contacts me - there's a link to do so at the bottom of this page.

I'm a computer consultant (not quite as nerdy as the stereotype, at least I hope not) and my wife is studying for a degree in Biology. I'd like to think we're both of above-average intelligence, but have never taken a formal IQ test ourselves. You might argue that this influenced Ben's intelligence, and I guess it could have been a factor, but I believe that much more significant is your own attitude as a parent to the whole issue of educating your child and improving their prospects in life - regardless of how well you did in school or how smart you are, following this plan for yourself could hardly be easier. Okay, making the initial recording may be a bit time-consuming, and don't get complacent as soon as the baby is born - an enthusiasm to learn and for reading needs to be fostered, so when your child gets into a regular(-ish) sleep pattern, make a point of reading something to them during their "quiet time" just before bed each evening. If you've followed my suggestion of using the Dr. Seuss books, then these will definitely prove popular. One minor downside though - Ben's favourites at this age were, unsurprisingly, "The Cat in the Hat" and it's sequel "The Cat in the Hat comes Back" and, having read one or the other of these to him several times a week for several years, the words of both books are now etched eternally in my brain and I can recite them from memory even now, some ten years later...

(August 2008)


Contact the author
Wikipedia history of The Cat In The Hat
Audacity sound editor (free)
Dr Seuss on, more info on this same subject
The BabyPlus pre-natal education system
Other commercial pre-natal education systems
Mensa, The High IQ Society (the original home of this page)


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For the benefit of the search engines

Feel free to stop reading at this point. This paragraph is unashamedly included for the benefit of the search engines, with the aim of picking up as many links as possible by including some "buzz-words" which people are likely to search on. This page is about attempting to improve your unborn baby's intelligence, increasing his or her IQ by stimulating the growth of neural pathways in their brain as it develops while it is still in-utero, or in the womb. This is sometimes referred to as pre-natal learning, fetal learning or foetal learning, depending on which "flavour" of English you speak.
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