Language exposure for preterm infants is reduced relative to fetuses

Brian B Monson, Sophie E Ambrose, Carey Gaede, Derrick Rollo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To assess changes and deficits in language and auditory exposures consequent to preterm birth and neonatal intensive care unit stay compared with exposures in utero among typically developing fetuses. Study design: We analyzed over 23 000 hours of auditory exposure data in a cohort study of 27 typically-developing fetuses and 24 preterm infants. Extrauterine exposures for fetuses were captured by having pregnant women wear 24-hour audio recording devices. For preterm infants, recording devices were placed in the infant's crib. Multilevel linear regressions were conducted to test for group differences and effects of infant sex, maternal education, and mother' occupation. A linear mixed-effects model was used to test for an effect of speaker gender. Results: Fetuses were exposed to an estimated 2.6 ± 1.8 hours/day of nearby, predominantly female language, nearly 5 times greater than 32 ± 12 minutes/day estimated for preterm infants (P < .001). Preterm infants had greater daily exposure to electronic sounds (5.1 ± 2.5 vs 1.3 ± 0.6 hours; P < .001) and noise (4.4 ± 2.1 vs 2.9 ± 2.8 hours; P < .05), with 4.7 ± 3.9 hours/day of silence. Language and extrauterine sound exposure for fetuses showed a marked day/night cyclical pattern, with low exposure during nighttime hours, but preterm infants’ exposures showed significantly less change across the 24-hour cycle (P < .001). Maternal occupation requiring frequent communication predicted greater language exposure (P < .05). Conclusions: Our findings provide the first comparison of preterm infant auditory exposures to typically-developing fetuses. Some preterm infants may incur deficits of over 150 hours of language exposure over the preterm period. Given known effects of prenatal/preterm language exposure on neurobehavioral outcomes, this magnitude of deficit is alarming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113344
JournalThe Journal of Pediatrics
Early online dateJan 31 2023
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • auditory development
  • language
  • preterm birth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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