Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Mother-Fetus Communicative Relationship: A Longitudinal Study on 58 Primiparae and Their Children during the First Eighteen Months

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Mother-Fetus Communicative Relationship: A Longitudinal Study on 58 Primiparae and Their Children during the First Eighteen Months

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The purpose of this longitudinal observational survey was to compare a questionnaire on fetal auditive exposure, administered to 58 pregnant women, to the Mac Arthur questionnaire recording the communicative and linguistic development of their children when ten- and eighteen-months-old. By 'fetal auditive exposure' we mean the natural exposure to the acoustic stimuli that the fetuses experience through their mother's living environment. Fifty-eight women in their sixth to ninth month of pregnancy were given a questionnaire evaluating the characteristics of the acoustic aspects of the mother's daily life environment and the quality and quantity of the mother's linguistic communication. Subsequently, the children were tested with the Italian version of the Mac Arthur questionnaire. Lastly, the two questionnaires were compared in order to examine possible associations between the child communicative and linguistic development and the fetal auditive exposure. In our sample we found that intentional linguistic communication from mother to the fetus is a relevant factor that can be associated to the communicative development of the children. The frequency of intentional daily mother-fetus linguistic communication shows an association with the linguistic understanding and the communicative actions and gestures of 18-month children.

KEY WORDS: prenatal development, auditive exposure, linguistic development, mother-fetus communication.


Our study on the acoustic experience of the fetus comes from a broader interest: how the psyche develops in the interpersonal relationship between the fetus and its mother. The sensory experience of the fetus in the maternal womb represents an aspect of great interest. Several studies have shown how the newborn's competences follow a complex intrauterine development (Verny, 1989; Piontelli, 1992; Chamberlain, 1994; Righetti, 1996; Delia Vedova & Imbasciati, 1998; Kisilevsky & Low, 1998).

These studies show how the fetus, from the 25th week onward, lives a multiform sensorial experience in relationship to the maternal body and the external stimuli. This experience concerns a possibility to perceive through all the sensory modalities and to preserve memory. In particular among the stimuli, the fetus is able to perceive sonorous stimuli. The sonorous experience of the fetus has been studied for a long time showing the existence of a complex ability of recognition of sounds and language besides the maternal voice. Literature underlines that from the 23rd week onward the fetus reacts to sounds, shows habituation to a repeated acoustic stimulus and can discriminate sounds (Madison, Adubato, Madison, Nelson, Anderson, Erickson, Kuss & Goodlin, 1986; Shaidullah & Hepper, 1994).

Therefore the fetus is soon able to perceive and distinguish both the internal maternal body sounds and the external acoustic stimuli. In the uterine environment the fetus lives a vast sonorous experience among which are the maternal heartbeat, the breathing noises and the borborygmi. The womb is also permeable to external acoustic stimuli. Uterine attenuation of the sound is 20 to 70 dBs. Low frequency sounds are little attenuated (lower than 250 hzes) while the attenuation increases with higher frequency sounds (Lecanuet, Granier-Defere & Busnel, 1989; Birnholz & Benacerraf, 1983; Pujol, Lavigne-Rebillard & Uziel, 1990) consequently the voices and the external conversations are almost always distinguished.

A systematic administration of acoustic stimuli in the last two months of pregnancy shows how the fetus recognizes other stimuli besides its mother's voice (De Casper & Fifer, 1980). Furthermore children who underwent prenatal educational programs showed elevated somato-sensory coordination and better communicative and cognitive development as seen in a few longitudinal studies (Van de Carr & Lahrer, 1986, 1988; Manrique, 1998; Lafuente, Grifol, Segarra, Soriano, Gorba & Montesinos, 1998). …

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