Fetal exposures to sound and vibroacoustic stimulation

J Perinatol. 2000 Dec;20(8 Pt 2):S21-30. doi: 10.1038/sj.jp.7200446.


Sounds in the environment of a pregnant woman penetrate the tissues and fluids surrounding the fetal head and stimulate the inner ear through a bone conduction route. The sounds available to the fetus are dominated by low-frequency energy, whereas energy above 0.5 kHz is attenuated by 40 to 50 dB. The fetus easily detects vowels, whereas consonants, which are higher in frequency and less intense than vowels, are largely unavailable. Rhythmic patterns of music are probably detected, but overtones are missing. A newborn human shows preference for his/her mother's voice and to musical pieces to which he/she was previously exposed, indicating a capacity to learn while in utero. Intense, sustained noises or impulses produce changes in the hearing of the fetus and damage inner and outer hair cells within the cochlea. The damage occurs in the region of the inner ear that is stimulated by low-frequency sound energy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Acoustics
  • Animals
  • Ear, Inner / embryology
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development
  • Fetus / physiology*
  • Hearing / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Noise / adverse effects
  • Sound*
  • Vibration