This is a sentence I thought I would never have to write, you know? But hey vagina + tech = cool and “newsworthy,” so here we are.
The Institut Marquès has created (and of course is marketing) a pink “sound system” to insert in the vagina under the guise of fetal brain development.
I’ve been sent the link about the product, Babypod, enough times that I feel compelled to respond.
— Skeptical Scalpel (@Skepticscalpel) January 6, 2016
What does the science say?
Functional hearing in human fetuses develops at around 24-27 to weeks gestation with low-frequency sounds, such as the mother’s heartbeat and speech, eliciting the greatest and most detectable physiologic responses. Around 28 weeks the ear and brain are good enough to appreciate a 40 DB sound (that’s about the noise of a fridge humming).
In the uterus a fetus definitely registers maternal voice and heartbeat once all the wiring is in place and there is evidence that exposure primes the brain “to process and store speech information immediately after birth.” The fetus appears to be more adaptive and responsive to maternal sounds than any other.
While it is true that a loud noise will cause a fetus in the third trimester to move (this is called a vibroacoustic stimulation) this is a startle reflex and not grooving to the beat or smiling back at mom. A baby doesn’t smile or react as we know it when it “hears” its mother’s voice. Reflexes are not purposeful responses. The ability to smile and to react meaningfully to surroundings comes after birth.
Music devices for the fetus have been around for a while and of course no study has shown benefit. Pregnancy music belts are available and one study concluded, “Pregnancy music belts seem to be a useless tool to support fetal development. The poor sound characteristics of the loudspeakers and the concept of an isolated stimulation appear not promising to effectively support the complex multimodal maturation of the sensory system.” The authors though “traditional implementation of music,” such as maternal singing, was more reasonable.
Claims to be a maximum sound of 54 decibels and is “recommended for use” from 16 weeks. Dr. Marisa López-Teijón, apparently the brainchild, has published her findings with the device. I’m unimpressed with the meager reported increase in fetal heart rate (given the margin or error) and there is no explanation for why there was a slight drop in heart rate in the control group. Also, I’m not sure an increase in tongue extrusions from a baseline of 38% to 48% in response to vaginal music by fetuses at 16-23 weeks gestation is a sign of anything significant or meaningful clinically or statistically. But my biggest issue with the study is why wasn’t maternal vocalization used as a control and how could the study control for maternal vocalizations, coughing etc?
Finally, the risk. Probably minimal, but who knows if sound in the vagina could affect cervical mucous? The fact that a sex toy or sex is okay does not make a speaker okay, they are different things. And what about infection? Could you get toxic shock syndrome from the speakers if not cleaned properly? And how do you clean all those little holes?
The bottom line
Studies tell us a fetus is better off hearing its mother hum Mozart or sing Adele’s Hello or The Beatles Here Comes the Sun, no matter how off key, than listening to any other version trans abdominally or vaginally.
And yes vaginas are cool, but no you don’t need to put anything in them to make them cooler.