Learning Begins in the Womb
TO ARISTOTLE the baby’s brain at birth was a tabula rasa, a blank slate. Over two thousand years later, many still considered it little more than that. “When the baby is just born,” a medical professor from the University of Pennsylvania wrote in 1895, “it is very little more intelligent than a vegetable.” Folklore disagreed and claimed that an infant learned in the womb and had awareness of happenings outside of it. Science now says that both Aristotle and the professor are wrong and that the folklorists are right.
The brain has a small beginning, but how awesome it is at its completion! Its development starts during the third week of pregnancy as a thin layer of cells called the neural plate. Neurologist Richard M. Restak tells us what it becomes by pregnancy’s end: “But from that inauspicious beginning will develop the most marvelous organ in the known universe.” The process begins with perhaps 125,000 cells and increases at the rate of 250,000 a minute. Restak adds: “Eventually they will multiply into some one hundred billion neurons that are the basis of all functions of the brain.”
As the brain grows, connections are formed between its neurons. By the eighth week, these connections, called synapses, are developing and soon number in the millions as they assume the multitudinous functions of the fetal brain. It is also at this time—the end of the second month of pregnancy—that “everything that will be found in the fully developed human being has . . . been established,” according to the widely acclaimed book A Child Is Born. All its body parts are in place, and it is no longer an embryo. The fetal stage for growth and perfection of detail has begun. Even so, the abortionists dare to tell us that it isn’t living.
The earliest movements of the fetus begin at seven and a half weeks. By 13 weeks taste buds are functioning, and later on if sugar is added to the amniotic fluid, the rate of swallowing doubles. But if something distasteful is added, the fetus sharply curtails its swallowing and grimaces to underscore its displeasure. By 15 and 16 weeks, breathing, hiccuping, sucking, swallowing, yawning, eye movement—and in succeeding weeks REM sleep—all of these are occurring. “To a limited extent,” Restak says, “the fetus too is able to hear, see, taste, smell, and feel in the intrauterine world.” But it is still not a living creature, the abortionists assure us.
The newborn remembers things it was exposed to in the womb—its mother’s heartbeat, for example. It fell asleep to that sound, woke up to it, rested to it, moved to its rhythmic beat. It was a constant companion, giving a feeling of tranquillity and security. Researchers proved its soothing powers in an experiment in a maternity ward. The babies exposed to a recording of a human heartbeat cried less and thrived better than those without it. Interestingly, “intrauterine and other sounds are soothing (to fussy infants) only when presented at levels comparable to those found in utero.”
Not only is the fetal brain involved with the activities inside the womb but it is also noting and remembering things going on outside. “Vivaldi is one of the unborn child’s favorite composers,” says Dr. Thomas Verny. “Mozart is another. Whenever one of their soaring compositions was put on a record player, reports Dr. Clements, fetal heart rates invariably steadied and kicking declined. . . . All forms of rock, on the other hand, drove most fetuses to distraction.”
Dr. Anthony DeCasper, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, designed a nonnutritive nipple that monitors the rate and pressure of an infant’s sucking. By varying its sucking pattern, the infant learns to select the recorded sounds that it wants to hear—certain voices and stories, for example. A newborn only an hour or two old was able to pick out the voice of its father, who had talked to it in short soothing words while it was in the womb. Not only did the child select that voice to listen to but it also responded emotionally and stopped crying, feeling safe. In the same way, it would select its mother’s voice to listen to, as well as her heartbeat, both of which it had grown accustomed to in the womb.
In another experiment, DeCasper had 16 pregnant women read aloud a children’s story entitled The Cat in the Hat. They read it twice every day for the last six and a half weeks of their pregnancy. Shortly after the babies were born, they were hooked up to the sucking device, and recordings of two stories were played to them, The Cat in the Hat and The King, the Mice and the Cheese. By their sucking tempos, the babies in every case picked out The Cat in the Hat as their choice to listen to, the story that they had heard in the womb. They picked it out repeatedly instead of The King, the Mice and the Cheese, which they had not heard in utero. Children of any age do the same, always wanting to hear their favorite story over and over, rather than hearing a new one.
DeCasper concluded: “It looks as though auditory preferences after birth are influenced by what is heard prenatally.” Dr. Restak, who reported on these findings, says: “The baby learns in the womb, recognizes its mother’s voice, even her intonation and the very book she’s reading.” His conclusion: “Fetuses, in other words, are capable of auditory perceptual learning in the uterus months before they actually need it or could be expected to make use of it.”
The baby has learned much in the womb. It is well equipped to learn. All the foregoing shows that even in the womb the brain is amazing. While there, it acquires its full complement of neurons. “At birth, a newborn brain has more neurons with which to form networks than it will ever have again,” according to the neuroscientists. From its inception this new life in the womb has been very busy for eight months making these billions of neurons and creating billions of connections between them, making possible the moving, breathing, sucking, swallowing, tasting, urinating, hearing, seeing, learning, and remembering. How can any intelligent person say that this creature is not living?
Many scientists and millions of others logically believe that life starts in the womb at conception. In his book The Mind, Dr. Restak says: “The true beginning and most critical event in our lives is clearly the moment of our conception. The Chinese recognize this by calculating age from that moment; a baby is considered one year old at birth.”
Today, many like to believe that babies are not to be considered a life, a person, until birth, but God’s Word disagrees. If the baby is intentionally aborted, God’s rule is: ‘A life for a life.’ This is reinforced by Exodus 21:22, 23: “In case men should struggle with each other and they really hurt a pregnant woman and her children do come out but no fatal accident occurs, he is to have damages imposed upon him without fail according to what the owner of the woman may lay upon him; and he must give it through the justices. But if a fatal accident should occur, then you must give soul for soul [or, “life for life,” King James Version].”
While the baby is still in the womb, Jehovah considers it to be a living person. That it is such is clear from all its activity in utero. Science now knows that all its bodily parts are present and functioning by the end of the second month, that it is feeling, learning, and remembering. Certainly the newborn’s mind is not a ‘blank slate’ as Aristotle said, nor does the baby know ‘little more than a vegetable’ as the university professor said. It has all the neurons that it will ever have, and they are ready to register all the new sights and sounds and feelings that now surround it. It is ready to go! Or is it?
The mother can do much for the well-being of the baby in her womb, or she can do damage to it. Her thoughts can affect it, for good or ill. It is not that the fetus will think the mother’s thoughts; but the thoughts she dwells on generate emotions, and the fetus is affected by the emotional states those thoughts generate, whether they be of security, serenity, and tranquillity or of anxiety, fear, and rage. Far worse, infectious diseases may be transmitted from mother to fetus through the placenta. Sexually transmitted diseases, even AIDS, can be passed on. Mothers who during pregnancy use tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, morphine, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs may give birth to babies addicted to drugs, with minds retarded, brains damaged, bodies malformed, subject to strokes, seizures, and other dire consequences.
The baby in the womb is not as sealed off from the outside world as many once thought. While in the womb, it may be lovingly nurtured or cruelly victimized. What treatment awaits it once it leaves the womb? Its learning began in the womb, but what will its learning experiences be when it comes into this world? Hopefully, happily married loving parents will make those experiences good ones.
[Blurb on page 14]
“The most marvelous organ in the known universe”
[Blurb on page 14]
Eight weeks, and all its parts in place
[Blurb on page 15]
How can any intelligent person say that this creature is not living?
[Blurb on page 17]
Many scientists believe that life starts at conception
[Picture on page 16]
At eight weeks, 1.6 inches [4 cm] in length, and all its body parts in place
Photo: Lennart Nilsson for A Child Is Born - 1976 ed./Dell Publishing Co. (also page 2)