Fetuses and Flipper: Water on the brain?

The lastest prenatal must-do: Swimming with dolphins.

Published October 27, 2005 8:50PM (EDT)

Broadsheet predicts that it's only a matter of time before expectant mothers from San Francisco's Noe Valley to New York's Upper West Side are lining up at Sea World for a chance to have their bellies nuzzled by Flipper. A new study by Elizabeth Yalan, dean of the Obstetrician College of Peru, claims that the high-pitched screeching noises made by dolphins stimulate brain growth in fetuses. Now, Peruvian moms-to-be are ditching the prenatal Mozart; instead they're rushing to an aquarium to have their abdomens kissed and coddled by the sweet-tempered mammals. (Some of the photos of "dolphin therapy" seem vaguely erotic, but maybe that's just me.) The trend has also been picking up steam in Britain, where tour operators report a 40 percent increase in the number of pregnant women requesting swim-with-the-dolphin vacations.

While studies have shown that fetuses respond to music in utero, there's no data to support the idea that this kind of prenatal "enrichment" has any long-term effect on intelligence. "I wouldn't rush out as a pregnant woman and pay money to be in the water with a dolphin thinking it would make my baby's brain grow," Dr. Janet Mann of Georgetown told ABC.com. But will this lack of evidence keep pregnant American moms away from Busch Gardens?

Probably not. As Beth Teitell suggests in the BostonHerald.com, diving with dolphins is likely to become yet another item on the ambitious pregnant woman's to-do list, after signing up for prenatal yoga, stocking up on Baby Einstein DVDs, and obsessively monitoring the boards at UrbanBaby.com. "We have to swim with dolphins now?" said one mother quoted in Teitell's column. "I'm telling you, there's no way I'm putting on a wetsuit the next time I get pregnant," scoffed another. "This is totally corrupting pregnancy."

Maybe corrupting is too strong a word. But ridiculous seems about right.

By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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