Pregnant and not worrying about Mozart effect

I have to admit – although my level of musical knowledge is probably above average, during pregnancy I spent a few nights reading other mum’s stories about how listening to certain kinds of music turned their children into geniuses. The so-called Mozart effect seems to be a popular subject among future mums – but does it really work?

No more wondering! Future mothers have already too much on their plates to also worry about Mozart and supposed benefits of his music for pregnancy and a baby in the womb. Especially if such a mum has never really liked Mozart… and now she faces a perspective of an hour of his music every single day. But what for?

Is Mozart effect real? Does playing music to an unborn baby even matter? What is really going on with hearing during prenatal development?

When can babies hear in the womb?

A sensitive period for music is a time when music receptors are formed and first sensory and motor reactions to music occur. So when does the sensitive period for music start? When can babies hear – and what do they hear in the womb?

Sense of hearing develops between 16 and 20 weeks of pregnancy. At 20 weeks children can hear as good as adults. They perceive sounds over 40dB (everyday surface noises in the house) and start to differentiate acoustic stimuli. That’s why it is said that children recognize their mother’s voice even before birth. Between 5 and 6 months of pregnancy babies react to loud voices from the surrounding. It has been observed that at around 7 months children react to music with rhythmic movements and have their first preferences. And at around 8 months they react differently to voices of their mother, father and strangers.

Facts about music for an unborn baby

Most of the sounds that children hear in the womb come from the mother – her voice, heartbeat, body movements, internal organs working. Outside noises are muffled, especially high frequencies are moderated by amniotic fluid. Mother’s body serves as a filter for the sounds. Amniotic fluid facilitates low sounds – which means children in the womb prefer low register instruments (such as cellos, contrabass, bassoon) and high register instruments might not be heard at all.

Babies prefer their mother’s voice over any other sound. But notice the fact that slight differences between certain consonants or vowels might get distorted in the womb. However, it doesn’t involve certain frequencies of sounds, so babies seem to be more interested in their mother singing rather than talking. Studies show that infants calm down in reaction to melodies they listened to between 6 and 8 (in other studies 9) months of pregnancy. Source literature suggests that although no relationship has been found between reactions in the womb and musicianship development after birth, mother’s singing can benefit psychological and intellectual development of the child, including music intelligence.

Music for pregnancy – is it worth it to get belly headphones?

– Singing to unborn babies is much more effective than playing music from a CD – so maybe instead of buying belly headphones just try to sing something… and make a habit of it! (You can read more on the powerful and lasting influence of singing to your little one here)

– If you choose to listen to music during pregnancy, remember that unborn babies prefer low register instruments and low frequencies

– There’s no point in talking to, singing or playing music to an unborn baby before 16 weeks of pregnancy

– There are no reliable data confirming that listening to classical music during pregnancy can affect child’s intelligence, the same goes for other types of music (it doesn’t matter if you’re listening to Mozart or Metallica)

– You probably shouldn’t count on your certain actions to turn your unborn child into a genius…

– …BUT it’s really worth it to sing to the baby regularly. Don’t care about the lyrics or your own musical talent (or lack of it!) – just sing, your baby is your number one fan!

Now you know what and when babies can hear in the womb and that they prefer their mother’s voice over music played from CDs – even so-called CDs with music for pregnancy. You’ve also learned that Mozart effect is a myth and it doesn’t matter what kind of music you listen to during pregnancy.



Manturzewska, M., Kamińska, B. (1990). Rozwój muzyczny człowieka [Human musical development]. In M. Manturzewska & H. Kotarska (Eds.),  Wybrane zagadnienia z psychologii muzyki [Selected issues in psychology of music]. Warsaw: WSIP