In this day and age, you are more likely to catch up with a friend via text than you are by talking on the phone. You probably post on your friend from high school’s (who you haven’t seen in years) timeline for their birthday, and tweet out something exciting instead of calling up your friends. Hell, we wouldn’t be surprised if you posted a picture on Instagram today with your #supertasty breakfast or your brand-spankin’ new #OOTD.
There is certainly no denying it. Texting, social media and other, non-vocal communication methods prevail nowadays, but there is something to be said about having an actual conversation with a loved one, friend, or really, anyone in particular. Hearing someone’s voice allows you to understand what is implied, simply by noticing the tone of his or her voice. Without the need for an emoji to ensure your best friend knew you were joking, hearing your voice helps the receiving end to easily move on, knowing well that what you said wasn’t meant to be taken seriously and you didn’t mean to offend.
Or, perhaps someone really, really pissed you off and you make it pretty freakin’ clear by being short with your words and using your mean girl voice.
It happens all the time, we know.
Have you ever thought about what conversations must sound like from the perspective of a newborn baby? Or, have you considered that how you speak, even if you aren’t speaking directly to them, could affect them?
We’ve got seven ways your voice can affect your newborn, including ways you can help boost your newborn’s development through the sound of your voice. Read it over, and see if you find yourself changing any of your ways.
7 What Your Voice Says About You
Before we dive into the deep pool of understanding what your baby can learn from simply hearing you speak on a regular basis, it might be important for you to know just how much your voice actually impacts those around you. In fact, your voice is ultimately what a lot of people use to judge you when they first meet you – whether they know it or not.
Take a minute to think about some of the times you have met people in your life for the first time. When they greeted you, what were your first thoughts? Even more, when you meet people at work, daycare, play groups, church – wherever – you likely absorb sound of their voice and immediately begin formulating your first impression of that person.
Some researchers even say that people can hear a person’s personality through his or her voice, and the sound of their voice then forms a bias about not only their credibility, but even how good he or she might be in bed (hey, now).
So, how do you sound when you speak? Here’s a quick rundown of what your voice might say about you:
- - High pitched voice: a squeaky, high-pitched voice can make you come across as insecure and lacking conficence.
- - Slow talker: this can make people believe you are confident in what you have to say, which can gain you admiration and respect. Just don’t talk too slowly, with lots of long pauses as you speak.
- - Nasal voice: sorry, guys. We don’t have much good to say about this one. Unfortunately, allowing a nasal tone to take over your voice will likely annoy those around you and make you appear less professional.
- - Gravelly voice: this kind of voice can demand the attention of others, giving the impression of your having experience and being in a position of authority.
- - Fast talker: these talkers oftentimes seem nervous when they speak at a higher speed. Speaking fast can also prevent the person you are speaking to from fully understanding what you are saying.
- - Low talker: speaking clearly in a low voice helps you to come across as strong, as it can command others’ attention. Be sure not to mumble, though; you’ll get nowhere fast if people can’t understand what you say!
6 Baby Learns Parents’ Voices Early
As your little one develops in the womb, acquiring those adorable facial features you’ll want to nuzzle and kiss, as well as growing tiny fingers and toes, his or her senses are developing, too. Around week 16, your baby begins to hear some limited noises. From there, by week 24, he or she will become accustomed to all kinds of sounds, and may even begin to turn his or her head in response to voices and noises. Familiar sounds for baby now include:
- - The sound of your stomach growling or gurgling
- - Our lungs filling with and emptying air
- - Car horns honking
- - Doorbells ringing
- - Dogs barking
- - And – most importantly – your voice.
For many years, doctors believed that babies didn’t learn much in the womb, and that they only began to grow knowledge of the outside world once they, too, were on the outside. Contrary to those beliefs, though, additional studies have proven that babies are able to begin to understand the world around them while in the womb.
To the baby, most of the voices he or she will hear will sound as though you are speaking with your hand over your mouth. Mom’s voice, however, is the clearest. Studies have shown that a baby’s heart rate can actually increase when he hears his mother’s voice – allowing us to believe that a baby will become more alert when you speak. Other research has shown that the mother’s voice could potentially lower the baby’s heart rate, meaning her voice has a calming effect. By the time the baby is born, he or she can recognize the voice of his or her mother and, interestingly enough, babies have shown a preference to the sound of their mother’s muffled voice, as that is how they knew it before they were born.
Don’t worry, dads. Your voice can also serve as a way to soothe your baby before and after he or she is born, too. You just need to put in a little effort and spend time each day talking to the baby. You might be happy to know that he or she could possibly respond with a wiggle or a kick to say, “hey, dad!”
5 Mom’s Voice Helps Develop Premature Baby's Brain
We talked above about how babies learn sounds and voices while in the womb. But what about babies who aren’t in the womb long enough?
Brain development is largely shaped by early sensory experience, but it is currently unknown how early, and to what extent the newborn’s brain is shaped by exposure to maternal sounds when the brain is most sensitive to early life programming.
A study conducted on 40 preterm infants born between 25 and 32 weeks had the babies receive ultrasounds right after birth, with a follow up when the baby was approximately one month old. Infants who listened to sound recordings of their mother’s voice while in the incubator during this time were shown to have more well-developed auditory cortices than the babies who had not.
The auditory cortex is the part of the brain that processes sounds. It is not solely responsible for your ability to actually hear, as other organs within your ear handle that, but instead, allows you to process and understand the sounds, to connect a meaning to what it is you are hearing. We won’t go into too much of the science-y details, but just for your knowledge, the auditory cortex is made up of:
The primary auditory cortex (higher level sound processing; understanding when sounds start and stop or change pitch)
The secondary auditory cortex (involves more subtle sound processing)
This is not to say that the mother’s voice is the only voice that will produce this effect. The voice of the father or another individual the infant may have become familiar with in utero could possibly produce similar results. Future research will help to determine this, but for those who have already had their babies, you probably already know whether your little one recognizes dad’s voice right away.
Additional research may also be done to determine if listening to recordings of the mother could also benefit infants who were not born premature.
The voice of the mother is also helpful in activating key parts of a full-term baby’s brain, too. Specifically, the parts that are responsible for language and learning.
4 Baby Talk – Do It!
When it comes to actually communicating with your baby, you can begin talking to him or her right from the beginning. It’s what babies do, so we might as well do it back, right? Babies tell us what they are thinking through their crying in the early days. That’s essentially how they let us know they’re hungry, tired, uncomfortable, bored, lonely, cold, hot, facing the wrong direction … you name it. Next time you feel like your baby cries too much, try replacing the word “cry” with “communicate.” This should help get you through those hard, early days.
But as babies grow, they begin to babble a bit. Around 7-8 weeks of age, babies discover their voice. Sure, it sounds a whole lot like jibberish, but to them, they are trying to tell you something! In order to help your little one acquire good speech and language skills, parents are encouraged to play along with this babbling and – yes – babble back. This will show your baby that what he or she is saying is important to you.
But we don’t want you to simply spend all day making baby noises. When we say talk to your baby – that is exactly what we mean!
- - Talk him through his diaper change
- - Tell her what you are doing as you are making dinner
- - Talk about your plans for the day
By doing this, you are not only teaching your baby important language and vocabulary skills, but your normal, every day voice will help him or her to understand the kinds of inflections used with different emotions. You might notice, as he or she gets older (even around 4-7 months), that your baby may begin to experiment with various intonations, raising and lowering the pitch of his or her voice as he or she babbles. This is your baby mimicking you – as your voice naturally goes up and down depending on the context of what you are saying.
So, what else can you do?
Read! Reading to your baby, and utilizing changes in your voice for different characters or to emphasize different parts of a story will help to boost baby’s brain development.
3 Reading Teaches Emotions
Although we touched on the importance of reading to your baby above, reading to your newborn is so helpful with her or her development that it warranted its own topic.
No one likes to hear a story in the same, monotonous voice. When you read, do you change the characters’ voices in your head? Do you imagine the British bloke that your leading lady met at a pub speaks like he is from the deep-south? No. You probably do not.
This is why you should be aware of your voice when you read to your baby. Changing the sound of your voice for characters when they speak, or explaining a picture with excitement in your voice if it is bright and colorful, is extremely beneficial for your little one, as being read to helps babies to see and hear what is around them. Not only that, but the emotion within your voice helps to expose your baby to different feelings through sounds.
Even though your newborn is not going to be able to respond to your reading just yet, he or she is absorbing what you say and how you say it. Within those first few months of your baby’s life, try to find some time, maybe just five minutes, to read aloud to your newborn.
- - Make it a bedtime routine
- - Read to your baby during alert moments throughout the day
- - If you are breastfeeding and feel comfortable multi-tasking (hi, Wonder Woman), you can read to baby during a feeding.
- - You can even read to your baby while he or she is asleep.
What you read really doesn’t matter, but be aware that as your baby gets bigger, he or she will probably begin grabbing at the pages and trying to chew on the book. Also, he or she will start to comprehend what is happening within whatever it is you are reading, too.
Your best bet is to either get some sturdy, cardboard books that can withstand a beating, or on the other hand, get a few soft, pliable books that will hold up to little teeth gnawing at it.
2 Yelling Can Hinder Newborn Development
We all get angry, and we all have days where we feel like we could flip out on everyone we come across. Sometimes we do, too, and it sets you and perhaps your husband off on a screaming match. Especially during those first few weeks at home with a newborn, when you are adjusting to a new family dynamic and tensions are high, it is hard to not snap when you’re sleep deprived, sore, and have a baby who needs you all. The. Time.
When it comes to the times when you feel like you need to lash out on your husband, mom, friend, whoever, try to calm yourself and not raise your voice. Why? Well, it turns out that arguing in front of your baby could actually alter his or her brain development and make him or her more vulnerable to stress.
Even if your baby is sleeping, arguing near him or her could have the same end result.
Because babies brains are easily influenced by the environments around them, when the environment is in a regular state of stress, he or she is more susceptible to growing up with anxiety and an inability to cope with and manage their own stress.
Sure, we all slip up once in a while and while research has shown us overexposure to angry tones can negatively impact babies, the occasional argument in front of the kids is bound to happen. On days when you feel like you’re in need of a good yell-it-out session, maybe give these few tips a try:
- - When you start to feel angry, take a minute to gather your thoughts. Almost like a grown-up time out, it gives you a chance to think if it is really worth the effort of arguing.
- - Write down your thoughts if you can’t get them out right away. This will help you gain perspective on what is bothering you.
- - Avoid the silent treatment. While babies may not feed off of the silence as much, older children can feel the tension and, in turn, try to ease it by acting out – either in a good way or a bad way.
1 Sing to Your Baby
Sure, not all of us can hit all of the high notes like Mariah Carey or make our voices run Christina Aguilera. We can’t all belt out with a vibrato like Celine Dion; everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Even if your singing makes the dog run away, in the eyes – or, well, ears – of your baby, however, your singing voice is something he or she is used to and likely finds it to be sweet and soothing. Remember, your baby was a silent audience for all of those concerts that may have occurred in the shower or your car during your pregnancy.
Amazingly, babies who are just one day old are actually capable of telling the difference between various rhythmic patterns. In 2009, researchers from Hungary and the Netherlands reported that, by measuring their brain waves when listening to rhythms, day-old infants are able to detect differences between them. This wasn't a learned skill. It was innate.
Singing to your infant is a way of communicating with them. It is said that caregivers across the world provide a better emotional voice pitch quality to infants, even by simply talking to them in the “sing-song” manner. With a raised pitch and slower tempo, “infant-directed music” can help to:
- - Optimize a baby’s mood and regulate his or her arousal level
- - Strengthen the emotional bond between the caregiver and infant
- - Introduce new vocabulary
- - Enhance infant survival, as regulating infant’s moods can assist with feeding and sleeping, which contributes towards growth and development.
You can add a benefit of singing to your baby by singing to help him or her adjust to transitions. Babies like routines and predictability. Singing the same song for going to sleep or waking up will help your baby to understand what is happening next.
You may be sitting there wondering, “okay, but what on Earth do I sing?” Whether it is “You Are My Sunshine” or “Rockabye Baby,” or even something from the top 40 list you hear on the radio, it really does not matter. All that is important is that you spend a little time serenading your little one.