Research on Learning that Begins Before Birth

Even before an infant is born, she is learning by becoming familiar with the sounds and smells she is experiencing. An infant will respond preferably to the rhythm of her language immediately after birth, compared to a rhythmically different language. An infant whose mother ate anise (a strong [page 2] smelling spice) reacts favorably to the smell of anise compared to an infant whose mother did not eat anise. The amniotic fluid, which surrounded the baby in the uterus, has become a familiar smell, and that smell has a soothing effect on newborn infants. So, even before birth, an infant is learning.


After birth, infants immediately start learning by association. The sound of mother's voice and her smell is coupled with touch and feeding. The taste of milk is coupled with elimination of hunger. Smells that are common to the home are paired with a calm environment. These are all learned preferences. There are also natural preferences. Most babies have a preference for sweet tastes and happy voices. There are many natural preferences. But, infants are also learning what may seem to be a personal preference, such as learning to like anise, even before being born. Infants are amazing!