As you may know, I recently provided some advice on the importance of lullabies for an article published on Care.com (read here). Understandably, only a small part of our conversation ended up being published in this article. So, I decided to share a bigger overview on the importance and benefits of singing lullabies here on The Loving Nest.
Although lullabies are not one of the most researched areas in child development, there have been some studies done on the effect of lullabies on newborns and children. Most of them have focused on the link between lullabies and language development. The findings have shown a significant correlation between both, meaning children that were more exposed to lullabies as babies developed better language skills later in childhood. It’s not surprising, since there have been a number of studies in the past reporting that both reading and talking to your baby are linked to language development. The more words baby hears, the more vocabulary he will develop. Just recently New York magazine wrote about a new study linking the amount of talking parents do with babies and their later language development. “Murray and her team found that parents who said they “always” talked to their baby while doing things around the house tended to have babies who scored higher on a test designed to measure babies’ burgeoning problem-solving and communication skills”.
Another area that has received quite a bit of attention are studies that focus on the effect of music and lullabies on premature babies that are in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Studies have shown that newborns who listen to recorded lullabies or to their parents singing lullabies see their heart rate slow down and their feeding and sleeping improve, which leads to an earlier discharge from the NICU. An interesting fact, is it that when it’s the parent singing to the child (vs hearing a recorded song), there is a higher impact on heart rate, indicating that the parents’ voice is able to soothe and calm down the baby.
Based on other studies that have looked at babies in utero we know that the infant is able to hear their mother and respond to her voice. Studies have shown that the baby’s heart rate also responds to mother’s voice by slowing down. We also know that after the child is born, a newborn is able to recognize and differentiate his mother’s voice from others and actually prefers it. Many times newborns will turn their heads to where their mother’s voice is coming from. Furthermore, other studies have suggested that singing or playing music to the baby during pregnancy calms the baby down, both in utero and as a newborn. While babies are in utero, besides having prime access to their mother’s voice, they spend their time surrounded by rhythmic and patterned sounds made by the mother’s body. That is why as newborns they tend to prefer the same sort of sounds. We all know how new parents will turn to white noise like vacuum cleaners or washing machines to try to soothe their babies to sleep. It is also known how much babies adore the rhythmic movement, dance, swing, and sway we often times catch new parents doing in order to get their newborn to stop crying or go back to sleep.
Finally, if we look at the adult perspective on singing and music we know it is often used as a coping mechanism to soothe us and keep us calm. And the number one factor to get a baby to calm down is to be calm ourselves. Babies are very good at reading their parents’ signs and if we want them to be calm, we need to be the first ones to breathe in and calm down too.
All this being said, it is very easy to see how singing lullabies can be a great way to bond with your child, calm both parent and baby down, and help babies feel regulated, soothed, comfortable, and secure. By singing lullabies to your child you are giving them so many things that they find soothing: their preferred voice, rhythmic and patterned sounds, movement (yes, because we all sing lullabies while bouncing or swinging, do we not?), and a calm and relaxing atmosphere. So you will find that singing lullabies will be one of the many tools that may come in handy to helping your child relax and (hopefully) sleep. Always keep in mind that different things work at different times. Likely, when they become a little older, as young toddlers, you will catch them singing along to those same tunes you sang to them as babies, while putting their toys/dolls to sleep.
What is your favorite lullaby?
Do you find it helps or helped with your kids?
This post is also available in: Portuguese (Portugal)