Through their hearing, babies are able to decode feelings and emotions just by the intonation of a voice.

While still in the womb, babies develop a very acute sense of hearing. “From the sixth month of pregnancy, unborn babies can detect all sorts of sounds: their mother’s voice, her beating heart, gurgling digestive system and even some external sounds,” says Dr. Cousineau. “They also become sensitive to language.”

We know that low-pitched sounds are muffled in the womb and can soothe a baby, while high-pitched sounds can cause stress (e.g: a horn, bell, alarm, etc.). We also know that, above all, unborn babies react to human voices. They are even said to respond to changes in pace and intonation.

How to be sure your newborn hears well. Twelve hospitals in Quebec offer hearing screening for their newborns, and one Quebec hearing screening program is to be progressively implemented in all Quebec birthing centres. « This screening test checks otoacoustic emissions (OAE). Those sounds are spontaneously given off by the ear and are measured with a small probe inserted into the ear canal to determine whether a child hears well or not,” she explains.

Through their hearing, babies are able to decode feelings and emotions just by the intonation of a voice.

There are many signs to confirm whether your newborn hears well very early on: she’ll turn hear head towards you when you talk or she’ll startle at various sounds. “If your baby doesn’t react to sounds, or if at about 7 months old, she’s still not trying to imitate the sounds you make, you should mention it to a doctor and schedule a hearing test,” says the pediatrician.

How to help

Foster a calm environment, ideally one without loud radios or televisions. Play soft music instead. Also, avoid very loud noises, especially high-pitched sounds that can damage hearing. Remember that your baby’s favourite sound is still your voice: talk to her often and if she vocalizes, enjoy! (From birth to 6 months old)

Newborns immediately recognize their mother’s voice, as well as certain familiar sounds and melodies that are comforting to them.

Play with sounds: sing nursery rhymes while clapping your hands, imitate animal sounds, put on some music and snap your fingers to the beat, give her a rattle that makes noise. You can also associate different music to different times of the day: calm music before naptime, rhythmic music during activities. (From 6 months old)

Experiment! Use chickpeas, sunflower seeds, unpopped popcorn, etc. from your pantry and make homemade maracas by filling small plastic bottles halfway with one type of seed. Your baby can then compare the different sounds each one makes. (From 12 months old)

“My partner plays musical instruments—guitar and harmonica—and I’ve noticed that our son Manuel recognizes the songs he listens to with his father all the time. He reproduces our rhythms, he listens to the birds… yet we didn’t really do anything special to stimulate this sense more than another.”
Annie Vanden Abeele, Mirabel, mother to Laurence and Mariane (6 years old) and Manuel (3 years old)