For years, parents have tried reading to, or playing music for, fetuses in utero — hoping some Mozart or Morrison will help their unborn child’s developing brain.
Now you can go one step further, with a “musical tampon” designed to stimulate fetal development by turning your vagina into a concert hall.
But there’s no evidence to support its claims and gynecologists say it could hurt you or the fetus you’re gestating.
“We thought it was a pretty good idea to put a speaker in the vagina so the fetus will experience the music as we do,” Babypod CEO Luis Pallarès told Global News from Spain.
Researchers from Spanish fertility clinic Institut Marquès approached Pallarès about two years ago with the idea.
They had introduced music into in-vitro fertilization incubators before and say they found it improved embryo development. So they wanted to see what would happen if they used music to stimulate the fetus in utero.
A study of 1,000 pregnant women found that fetuses as young as 16 weeks would open their mouths and stick out their tongues when music was played for them intra-vaginally.
Institut Marquès researchers think this is the fetus’s first attempt to “vocalize from the womb.”
Fetuses didn’t do that when music was played outside a woman’s abdomen, according to gynecologist Dr. Alex Garcia Faura, scientific board director of Institut Marquès.
“We think that with abdominal music, the fetus can get a distorted sound,” Faura said.
He believes music is more clear when played intra-vaginally in an enclosed space, where the only things that separate a fetus from music are the vaginal and uterine walls, as well as the amniotic membranes.
Fetuses who listen to music both via the vagina and abdomen usually get more active, according to research by Institut Marquès.
How the Babypod works
Insert the speaker — about 50mm by 34mm, although it isn’t clear from the company’s promotional material what dimensions, specifically, they’re measuring — into your vagina, similarly to the way you’d insert a tampon. Then plug the other end, which hangs out of your body, into your mp3 player or smartphone.
You can also listen to what your baby is listening to by hooking up headphones to another audio input.
“Mom and the baby can have their first shared music experience,” Pallarès said, “and that’s pretty cool.”
Babypod claims the sound intensity emitted by the intra-vaginal speaker is 54 decibels — “similar to a conversation in a hushed tone.”
The company says its device has a control system that ensures the sound doesn’t get too loud so fetal hearing isn’t damaged.
It has reportedly followed the first 100 children subject to Babypod, born in 2013, and their hearing has been normal.
They recommend musical sessions of 20 to 30 minutes, about twice a day to “respect the sleep time of the fetus.”
“But of course, patients should feel free to play it for a longer or shorter period of time,” Faura said.
The Babypod is made of silicone, the same material used in many sex toys. Babypod creators say it should be safe for use during pregnancy but recommend not using it if your pregnancy is “high risk” or if you’ve been told not to have sex during it.
Reality check: Probably not a great thing to put in your vagina
Gynecologists aren’t convinced.
There’s no solid proof there’s a benefit to the device, yet there is potential for harm, San Francisco OB/GYN Jen Gunter told Global News.
“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?”
WATCH: A video of a baby reacting emotionally to her mom singing a sad song went viral. But experts said the baby’s reaction wasn’t a good thing.
“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,” she wrote, “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.”
Music has been used to bring down premature babies’ heart and breathing rates, according to Sarah Van Peteghen, a music therapist at Alberta Children’s Hospital.
But there’s no evidence indicating playing music for your fetus is good for the fetus.
The Institut Marquès says it plans to study children who were exposed to the Babypod when they’re two and five years old, focusing specifically on their communication skills.
But that research will be flawed without randomization or a control group, says psychiatrist Dr. Gail Robinson, who specializes in Women’s Mental Health at the University of Toronto’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
“There is no way to do this research as no one knows how smart the baby would have been without the music. Intelligence of the child has much more to do with the IQ of the parents and having a healthy pregnancy.”
“The most beneficial use of music during pregnancy is probably to relax the mother, as less anxiety for the mothers is better for the baby,” she said.
Robinson is also not sold on those extra facial movements researchers reported seeing. She said they could’ve been the result of “overstimulation of the baby rather than evidence of any benefit.”
“This seems like a money grab that will work on a subset of mothers who feel that there is a way to ensure perfect babies.”
The Babypod CEO said thousands have already been sold around the world since November, although the company wouldn’t say how many exactly.
It retails in Canada for $191.33.