New mothers encouraged to sing to babies

By YOU
20 February 2017

Singing songs or lullabies is a key way for mothers to connect with their babies, experts report.

Researchers at the University of Miami Frost School of Music have conducted research into infant-directed song and found that babies have the innate ability to process music in a sophisticated manner.

For the study, Professor of Music Therapy Shannon de l'Etoile filmed 70 infants responding to six different interactions; a mother singing an assigned song, a "stranger" singing an assigned song, a mother singing a song of choice, book reading, playing with toys and listening to recorded music.

Accordingly, it was found that engagement through song is just as effective as book reading or toy play in maintaining infant attention, and far more effective than listening to recorded music.

But Professor de l'Etoile also focused on what the results said of the mother's role during the interaction, finding that when infants were engaged during song, their mother's instincts are also on high alert.

“Intuitively, when infant engagement declined, the mother adjusted her pitch, tempo or key to stimulate and regulate infant response,” she said.

While the intuitive adjustment of the song or singing voice seemed natural to most of the mothers involved in the study, Professor de l'Etoile also explored acoustic parameters in the singing voices of mothers with post-partum depression.

"The extraction and analysis of vocal data revealed that mothers with post-partum depression may lack sensitivity and emotional expression in their singing," she explained. "Although the infants were still engaged during the interaction, the tempo did not change and was somewhat robotic."

For mothers with postpartum depression, infant-directed singing creates a unique and mutually beneficial situation. Through song, the infants receive much-needed sensory stimulation that can focus their attention. At the same time, mothers experience a much-needed distraction from the negative emotions and thoughts associated with depression, while also feeling empowered as a parent.

“The tempo and key certainly don't need to be perfect or professional for mothers and infants to interact through song. In fact, infants may be drawn to the personalised tempo and pitch of their mother, which encourage them to direct their gaze toward and ultimately communicate through this gaze,” said Professor de l'Etoile.

Findings were published in the Journal of Music Therapy.

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