"We start our lives...with music. It's our first language. It's the rhythm of the womb. It's your mama's heartbeat inside your head."
Author: David Mutti Clark
David Mutti Clark and other writers﹘from William Shakespeare to Ray Bradbury﹘ have pondered what life is like inside our mother’s womb. A universal experience that none of us remembers, we are nonetheless driven to return to it. But the mysteries of the womb might soon be revealed.
Scientists are beginning to discover what a baby experiences in utero, thanks to highly sensitive audio pickup devices like Thinklabs One. With One, real-time, real-life sounds of the womb are now more accessible.
A handful of researchers, like Dr. Amir Lahav of Harvard University, are recording womb sounds to play for tiny newborns in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), to nurture healthy brain development. Lahav uses Thinklabs One to collect maternal sounds, such as heartbeat and voice. He’s found that babies exposed to these sounds for the first three days of life develop a significantly larger auditory complex than those who are not exposed to the sounds, and thus are more able to focus on language.
Dr. Joanna Parga, a neonatal and perinatal fellow at University of California Los Angeles, also is using Thinklabs One to record and catalog womb sounds for babies in the NICU.
“My focus is on the sound of blood flow around the uterus, digestive sounds in the intestines, and maternal breathing,” Parga explains, noting that these biological sounds are more consistent than the maternal voice. She hypothesizes that the biggest source of biological sound in the womb might be from the mother’s aorta.
Parga wants to find out how sound vibrations stimulate the development of the autonomous nervous system, and to see if biological womb sounds can be used to treat apnea of prematurity. This type of apnea is a that affects premature infants, causing oxygen deprivation and cardiovascular instability.
“Instead of these babies being surrounded by the sounds of monitors beeping and strangers talking all around them, I want to see how they would do with the background sounds of the womb instead,” Parga says.
According to Parga, all premature infants born at less than 28 weeks have this condition, in which the respiratory control centers in the brainstem that controls breathing are under-developed. It’s also what often keeps otherwise healthy infants in the NICU. Apnea can cause the heart rate to drop and blood oxygen to go down, and typically extends monitoring in the NICU for a full seven days until the episodes resolve.
Therapies for the condition developed so far are aimed at treating apnea, but they don’t offer ways to improve immature neural connections. Parga hopes the sounds she’s collecting with One will do just that.
“I want to create an optimal environment for these babies, and give them the best ability to go home sooner,” she says. “The better we can mimic the environment in the womb and try to recreate the in utero environment, the more quickly we might be able to do that.”
Why does Parga use Thinklabs? Aside from its unparalleled audio quality and easy-to-use recording features, she says she can even pick up and record womb sounds through tissue, which is notoriously challenging with other stethoscopes. She’s already made high-fidelity recordings of several mothers-to-be, and eventually she would like to create a library of womb sounds so they can be analyzed and quantified.
“Can we use the stethoscope to find out whether womb sounds differ if the mother has hypertension, or if she has diabetes, or other types of heart disease?” she asks hypothetically.
The womb is uncharted territory, which using advanced audio technology like Thinklabs, we can begin to hear and learn from. Armed with One, Parga is confident she will be able to achieve her goals.