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Why singing lullabies to your baby is so important

By The Health News Team | March 28, 2019
Why singing lullabies to your baby is so important

Amy Andrews plays a song for a mother and baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!

For many of us, settling into bed with the sweet sound of lullabies was a bedtime ritual. However, millennial parents may be phasing out this tradition.

According to a recent poll by market research company YouGov, just over a third of new parents with children under the age of 5 sing lullabies at bedtime, with the majority of lullaby singers being age 45 or older.

These findings saddened Amy Andrews, a board-certified music therapist who provides music therapy to newborns in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns through the Arts for Healing program.

“Singing is one of a parent’s natural superpowers,” says Andrews. “Singing enhances the parent-to-baby bond that is so essential for an infant to thrive.”

Research shows that singing soothes babies, supports their development, and strengthens the connection between parent and baby. Other benefits of singing and humming to infants, found in the NICU setting, include improved infant sleep, vital signs, weight gain, decreased stress and anxiety for parents, and a shorter NICU hospitalization.

Why aren’t millennial parents singing to their babies?
Andrews has a few guesses, the biggest culprit being easy access to music on smartphones and other devices.

“Another thought is the popularity of talent TV shows contributing to a newly developed cultural myth that we are not all singers,” says Andrews. “The truth is everyone can sing; singing supports our wellness, and the natural maternal or paternal voices of all parents have the ability to soothe and express love to babies.”

Should you play music on your phone or sing?
Andrews prioritizes singing over recorded music for three important reasons:

  • Bonding — “Singing to your infant supports a deeper bond, promoting affection from parent to baby and baby to parent,” says Andrews. “The unique quality and vibration of the parents’ voice has a powerful effect on their baby as their voices are a comforting sound of the womb. This cannot be replaced by a recorded lullaby, no matter how beautiful it may be.”

  • Soothing — “Singing also gives parents an effective strategy for soothing in the moment,” she says. “A parent’s voice is an immediately available tool to comfort their baby.”

  • Responsiveness to baby’s cues — Recorded music is a constant stimulus that is not responsive to a baby’s cues. An infant’s cues can be subtle and need a parent’s watchful eye. A singing parent is able to slow or stop the singing, rocking or patting in response to their infant.

Does humming work as well?

“Though singing is a meaningful way for a parent to bond with their baby, humming and speaking lovingly are also effective ways to soothe a baby and communicate love,” says Andrews. “When lyrics are added to the hummed melody, infants receive greater emotional content from their parent’s voice and are exposed to repetitive language, promoting language development.”

Babies also respond positively to the same song or songs sung to them regularly. This repetition increases the positive effects of music for infants.

Considering a noise machine?
Noise machines can be helpful to soothe infants, though it is important to keep the following factors in mind:

  • Volume should be no louder than 65 decibels, about the level of conversational speech.

  • Choose sounds that have a predictable rhythm and do not have spontaneous sounds.

Animal sounds are less soothing, unexpected and can startle a baby, Andrews says. If you choose to use noise machines or recordings, the best constant noises for a newborn mimic sounds heard in the womb, such as a heartbeat or a whooshing sound like ocean waves.

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