By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns
Mothers have always crooned their babies to sleep with lullabies, fathers have sung nursery rhymes to their toddlers, and families have made folk music a part of everyday life. Why? Because music is calming, music facilitates language development, and most of all, music is enjoyable for both parents and children.
Music and your baby
Studies have shown that even within the womb, a baby responds to music and melody. Hearing is fully developed by the third trimester, and when a fetus hears a tune repeatedly, she will recognize ¾ and feel comforted by ¾ that tune after her birth. If classical music is played for premature babies, their heart rates slow down and their breathing steadies, showing that the music helps to relieve stress. Music can serve a very practical purpose for calming her down.
How to introduce baby to music
• When your baby is upset, hold him or her close to you, sing, and dance and sway with the music. Music can do wonders to sooth a crying baby, especially with the combination of close body contact and movement.
• Play a variety of different types of music to see how your baby reacts. When your little one is upset or sleepy, he or she may respond to lullabies. When baby is cheerful, he or she may love to dance to your favorite songs with you. When baby is quiet and alert, he or she may like to listen to classical, jazz, or instrumental music.
• Remember lullabies from your childhood? Sing the songs or lullabies that you remember. Your baby doesn’t care whether you are completely tone deaf or an opera star, just as long as he or she hears the comforting sound of your voice. Recorded music has its place, of course, but be sure to also give your baby the gift of your own experience with music.
• Use music to let your baby know what is happening and to establish comforting routines.
• Put on the same calming music every time you prepare to give your baby a massage.
• Sing the same lullaby every night as you put your baby to bed.
• Play music in the car and sing along so that your baby learns it is fun to go places in the car.
• When you are about to change a diaper, turn on the musical mobile near the changing table.
• Put on some relaxing music during your baby’s bath.
• Play your favorite songs during the “fussy hour.”
• Enjoy music yourself. Not only is music comforting for your baby, it is also very calming for you. Whether you are singing a song to your crying baby, or dancing around the kitchen trying to soothe a colicky newborn, music can help soothe your jangled nerves as well as your baby’s.
Music and the older baby
As your baby grows, you will be delighted in seeing how your little one begins to rock, wiggle, bob, and dance to musi. All babies have an instinctive sense of rhythm and a love of music, so music should be a part of your everyday life. Here are some ways in which you can nurture your older baby’s relationship with music.
• Play simple games with your baby that involve both music and movement: Pat-a-Cake (clap your baby’s hands), This Little Piggy (wiggle those little toes), or Ride a Horse to Banbury Cross (jiggle baby on your lap).
• Dance and sing with your baby. Have a daily dance session in the living room where both of you wiggle to the beat of some lively music. (This is s a great way to fit in your own daily exercise program.) Create your own lyrics to a favorite song, with your baby’s name in it (“You are my Thomas, my little Thomas, you make me happy when skies are gray” to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine”). Soon your baby will be singing right along with you.
• Let your baby play with musical instruments. You can make them yourself: a shaker made from a small plastic bottle with beans or popcorn kernels in it (make sure the lid is glued and tightened securely to prevent a choking hazard); a drum made out of an empty coffee can; a pie pan and a spoon to tap out the rhythm to a song. And of course, you can also buy xylophones, tambourines, harmonicas and other instruments for your baby, but be warned: Babies can make a lot of fun noise with these instruments!
• Find a “music and movement” playgroup for your baby, in which both you and your baby can learn about music and have fun with other babies and parents. Some cities also have musical concerts for the very young.
• Buy “read and sing” books for your baby. Any song book with animals will be a hit, as babies love to point, sing, and dance and moo to the tune of songs like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”