Parenting: Within hours of being born, babies begin to distinguish sounds and develop language skills

Toni Harman
6 min readOct 14, 2022

Useful for parents to know (a great parenting tip): Babies start to learn language by hearing speech whilst in the womb. But the sound is muffled. A new study shows that within a few hours of being born, babies start to distinguish sounds and begin to tune into specific languages.

Parenting: Useful for parents to know. Within hours or birth, babies can distinguish sounds.

Useful for health professionals and parents to know!

Whilst developing in the womb, babies can hear speech.

Not surprisingly, the sounds they hear are muffled and indistinct.

The sounds they hear are as if the baby is underwater, which of course they are, inside the amniotic fluid, inside the amniotic sac, inside the womb.

Now new research has found that within just a few hours of being born, babies start to distinguish sounds and they even start to tune in to specific languages they’ll be speaking.

Or in scientific language, to quote from the abstract: “Neonates thus exhibit ultra-fast tuning to natural phonemes in the first hours after birth.”

So what’s the top tip for parents and health professionals?

Provided that the newborn baby is healthy, for parents and their baby to have at least a magic hour (or ideally longer) of uninterrupted quiet space and time to get to know each other.

This allows time for immediate skin-to-skin contact, this allows time to establish breastfeeding and time for the baby to get to know his/her new environment, with all those new sights, smells, tastes, feelings and sounds.

So no unnecessary loud talking nearby. No unnecessary checks.

The study by Wu, Y.J. et al., was published in Nature Human Behaviour on 2nd June 2022.

More details about the study are below.

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The Study:

Within minutes of birth, scientists played the baby recordings of a combination of vowel sounds forwards. Then a recording of the vowel sounds played…



Toni Harman

I help parents and health professionals better understand the science of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and the microbiome.