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The curious case of baby Einstein

If you see a to-be-mom muttering mathematical theorems to her bump, don’t be alarmed – she’s only [desperately] hoping for a genius tot. But can these pre-natal classes really work? Amrah Ashraf reports.

brunch Updated: Oct 13, 2012 15:46 IST
Amrah Ashraf

Samra Rizvi was teaching her six-year-old son how to add when her general physician called with the news – she was three months pregnant with her second child. Rizvi broke down and they weren’t tears of happiness. "I didn’t know if I could take the pressure of being a mom again. The thought of another toddler struggling through school was weighing me down," Rizvi recalls. Her fears sprung from the fact that her son wasn’t doing well at school. "I was worried that both my kids would lag behind."



Then, after many hours on the Internet, Rizvi found a ray of hope. "I found that in the West, there are many mothers who start educating their child while it is still in the womb," she says.



First-mover advantage

More women like Rizvi are pulling out all the stops to give their baby a headstart before they’ve even seen their baby’s head. Reciting nursery rhymes and prayers to their bumps isn’t enough, neither is playing Bach. "Reading out to your bump to familiarise the fetus to your voice is fine, but it is alarming when you do it to make him intelligent," says Dr PG Samdani, senior consultant and professor of pediatrics, Jaslok Hospital. "It’s all conjecture. For a child to learn, he has to interpret what you’re saying and a child in the womb cannot. It’s all noise for him."



Mom

But many parents see no harm in trying it. "It’s not like I am harming my kid," says Ratti Agarwal, who is in her third trimester. "If it works, nothing like it; if not, I won’t feel like I didn’t give it a try."

An unborn child does react to its mother’s voice. “In some cases, we have seen an infant’s heightened response to a particular sound. Mostly it’s the mother’s voice but there’s no understanding of words,” says Samdani. That said, it is disturbing that parents are concerned about their child’s performance in school when it is still developing from a fetus to a human baby. “Some parents go to the extent of explaining mathematical theorems to their unborn child. It is bizarre because the child does not understand language when it’s in the womb,” says Prachi Upadhyay, a child psychologist.

What were you thinking?
“Parents are increasingly busy these days and this seems like an easier way out,” explains Upadhyay. “So, instead of guiding them through their school years, they just want to produce a baby Einstein.” Many parents get too obsessed with their child’s success, “If this is how unreasonable parents are even before the child is born, can you imagine what will happen to the kid later?” she says.

Many mothers have realised that talking to your bump is not going to up your kid’s IQ. “Teaching your bump that two plus two equals four does not make him a great mathematician. It just makes you a paranoid parent. I am guilty of doing it and my son did not come into this world reciting tables of 16! I’d much rather have him learn his way through life than be a baby Einstein,” says Gunjan Walia, a stay-home mother to a toddler.

What really works
Future mommies, you cannot teach English grammar to your fetus. And mathematics is out of the question. So, does this mean you should stop interacting with the life inside you? No. Let this period be fun. Talk to your baby, get it familiar with its surroundings. Here’s what has been known to help:

Talk to your baby: Babies kick in the womb. That means they have woken up from sleep. Every time your baby kicks, repeat a sentence like ‘kick baby kick.’ Get him used to that particular sound and see if he reacts the next time. The idea is to get him used to external sounds, not make a genius out of him.

Play some music: Research shows that classical music stimulates the baby’s brain. So let Mozart work his magic on you and your baby.

Get daddy involved: Make sure that your partner also speaks to your bump every day. The baby will develop an association with that sound. Again, remember that the child cannot understand words. It’s all sound and noise.

Sing a special lullaby: Studies show that babies can recognise songs that they heard in the womb. They either quiet down or kick in excitement when they hear that lullaby.

From HT Brunch, October 14

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