It was like your average holiday concert in many ways but one. There was a blonde-coiffed Spanish singer, former Eurovision contestant Soraya Arnelas, who performed renditions of "All I Want For Christmas" and "White Christmas" with backup musicians. The decorations were sparse but tasteful, with an illuminated tree onstage, and candles on every audience member's table.
The only major difference? All the attendees were pregnant women and the show was organized by Institut Marquès, the Spanish gynecology clinic behind Babypod, an intra-vaginal speaker designed to broadcast music inside the womb to an unborn baby.
In a video filmed by the company, a monotone-voiced narrator explains how the walnut-sized silicone speaker works, which connects to your smartphone or headphones by a thin white cord. The Babypod plays music up to 54 decibels, and according to research by the institute, benefits babies with aural stimulation starting at 16 weeks gestation.
We wanted to know more, so we Skyped with the device's inventor, Barcelona-based doctor Marisa López-Teijón (a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology with over 25 years experience) to hear what she had to say.
THUMP: Who came up with the idea for this intra-vaginal speaker?
Dr. Marisa López-Teijón: I had the idea for it two years ago, and a friend of mine was the one who developed it.
And what was the reasoning behind it?
With assisted reproduction, I wanted the in-vitro fertilization lab to be like a huge uterus, so that embryos would find the environment as comfortable as within the womb.
So, I thought, at what temperature is the uterus? Well, we wanted that temperature, so we had all the surfaces warmed up. We keep in mind what can be seen inside the uterus, which is why our researchers kept the light low. Then I thought about what could be heard within the uterus. I started a study in which we put speakers at very high volume on the abdomen, but it didn't have any effects. I wondered—how can I arrange it so that the sound could reach the baby? I had to study a lot of science regarding sound and eventually I came up with the vaginal speaker.
Were there any results at first?
The first day that we put the product to the test with a pregnant woman, well it was impressive because the baby woke up and began to move its lips, and started to vocalize. It was incredible.
Does the apparatus provide a physical sensation to the mother?
No, it's like when you put in a tampon. The vaginal wall doesn't have the sensation to feel it. So while it's in there, you don't notice it.
Is there a specific genre of music that is recommended for babies?
We've studied a lot of types [of music], and we're currently looking at others. So what works? Well Mozart's Symphony No. 5 and ancestral/traditional music.
Does the music need to have lyrics or vocals to be effective?
No, it's rhythm and melody. And it's not just rhythm, because when we put on African drums, they don't respond. If we just put on melody, it doesn't work either.
The difference between saying something through speech or through a song is that music activates emotions. So they're different circuits. For example, if we speak normally, babies respond much less than if we speak with musicality. With musicality there is a much bigger response. What happens from the 16th week of pregnancy is the exact same thing that happens as when you speak to a baby.
Are there types of music that are possibly harmful to the baby, rock or techno for example?
It is stimulation. It's the same as if you have a baby in a cradle. If you put on rock music, well, they certainly won't like it. They don't like modern music. It doesn't stimulate communication.
What do you hope to achieve with this device?
What we're looking for is, well, we think that there are some parts of oral communication and of body language that depend on in utero development. For example, dyslexia is something that we might be able to eliminate—problems with moving the body, with communication, and with speech.
We're interested in stimulating them neurologically. But, we're still far from proving all this. I can say that we can share the pleasure of music, or the pleasure of a voice reaching the fetus.
Thanks to Leah Houle for her help conducting, translating, and transcribing this interview.
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