When Mom Speaks to Baby on This Phone, There's a Pregnant Pause

updated 10/31/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/31/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Just as the aphorism claims, necessity was the mother of invention. Four years ago California business consultant Dawn Hodson had to come up with a funny gift for a baby shower. She rounded up a length of aquarium tubing, a plastic kitchen funnel and a painter's mask, strung them together and created a joke telephone on which the expectant mother supposedly could chat with her child. "I told my friend she could get an early start on her baby's education," recalls Hodson.

Then someone suggested marketing the contraption. Two years ago Hodson raised $9,000 and leaped into production, naming her device Prega-phone. She expects to sell at least 10,000 Prega-phones this year, at $12.95 each.

A staunch advocate of prenatal chatter, Hodson says, "Early exposure to language tends to produce children who talk sooner and seem more self-confident." Toronto psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Verny, co-author of The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, agrees, but he dismisses the Prega-phone as a gimmick. "I certainly don't see anything wrong with it," he says, "but the Prega-phone doesn't work any better than speaking normally."

Last month Hodson decided it was time to stop kidding around and got a patent for the Prega-phone. But don't expect to see the Ventura-based businesswoman using one herself. Forty years old and never married, she is too busy nursing her career to think about kids of her own.

Hodson insists any topic is open between parent and unborn child: "You can say, 'Mommy and Daddy are glad you're coming.' Or 'We love you.' " Whatever the benefits of such conversations, Hodson's phone does have two exemplary features: You can carry it anywhere, and so far at least, it has never awakened anyone in the middle of the night.

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