Babies can remember melodies they heard in the womb, scientists at Paris Descartes University have discovered.

Scientists asked 50 expectant mothers to listen to a descending piano melody twice a day for three weeks before birth, and tested the babies one month after they were born.

The babies were this time played the same tune and a new ascending nine-note melody while they slept. On hearing the melody again, the babies' heart rates slowed faster than it did when they heard a new melody.

The heart rates of the sleeping babies slowed by an average of 12 beats per minute while they listened to the familiar melody, compared to only five or six beats when they listened to the new melody.

The findings will help improve scientists understanding of the effects of sounds in the womb. Psychobiologist Carolyn Granier-Deferre, who led the research, told online journal PLoS ONE that the results suggest that: "newborns pay more attention to what may be their mother's melodic sounds than they will to those of other women".

However, she said the findings do not indicate that pregnant women should play music to their developing children:

"When foetuses are old enough to hear fairly well, about four to five weeks before birth, they will be exposed to all the sounds of the maternal environment.

"There is no biological need for more auditory stimulation - more is not always better, especially during development.

"If mothers want to encourage music appreciation in their children, they can begin after the baby is born, when they can see and know what pleases or annoys, which she will never know from the behaviour of her foetus."

Posted by Robert Mair on 15.3.11 Comment on this article by sending it to: penny.hosie@pavpub.com