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Parents’ Singing to Fetus and Newborn Enhances Their Well-being, Parent-Infant Attachment, & Soothability: Part Two

February 26th, 2013 by avatar

Regular contributor Penny Simkin discusses the research around parents’ singing to their babies in utero and the post birth benefits.  She also shares how birth professionals can encourage clients, patients and students to start this practice during pregnancy.  Part one of this two part series can be found here. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

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What is the research evidence for postnatal benefits to parents or babies  of singing to the baby before birth?

• Fetuses can sense audio vibrations and rhythms early in pregnancy. Later in pregnancy they hear and distinguish various sounds. (4)
• They recognize their parents’ voices after birth (1)
• Newborns prefer their parents’ voices over the voices of strangers (1)
• Repetitive prenatal reading of one story by one parent every day for weeks results in the newborn’s recognition of and preference for that story. (2)
• Fetuses respond to music by calming, becoming active, changes in FHR (depending on the music) 5,6)
• Premature babies are calmed by calming music. (7)
• Newborns and young babies are calmed by familiar music, as demonstrated by the universal use of lullabies.

Combining these findings, a proposal

In light of all that has been learned about babies, I think we can combine it all into a simple approach to enhance bonding, soothe the baby, empower parents with their own unique tool that no one else, even the experts, can do as well as they. (8) I propose that we who provide care and education for expectant parents urge them to do the following at around 30-32 weeks’ gestation (or earlier or later):

Simple steps to singing to the baby in utero and after birth

1. Choose a song that you like and is easy for you to sing. It might be a lullaby or a children’s song, but it does not have to be. It can be one of your favorite songs or a popular song of the day.

2. Sing it every day. Both parents can sing it together, but each of you should also sing it alone much of the time. It can be played with a musical instrument some of the time, but it also should be played without an instrument much of the time.

3. When your baby is born, after the initial lung-clearing cry, sing the song to your baby. The baby can be in your arms or with a nurse in the warmer. If your baby is crying, try to sing close to his/her ear or loud enough that he/she can hear it at least during the pauses to take a breath.

4. Continue singing it every day, especially during times when your baby is crying (and has been fed; don’t use it as a substitute for feeding!)

5. Sing it when bathing or diapering your baby, when soothing or helping your baby go to sleep.

6. Sing it when your baby is upset and you can’t pick her up, such as when driving in the car and you can’t stop or take the baby out of the car seat; or at a checkup if the doctor is doing something painful.

Maia sings to her sister in utero ©Penny Simkin

If parents feel they can’t sing or are too embarrassed to do it, I suggest choosing a poem that has a nice rhythmic meter, and recite that to the baby. I recommend Mother Goose Rhymes or poems in books by AA Milne, such as “When We Were Very Young” and “Now We Are Six;” or Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and others.

Film clips showing baby’s reactions to familiar songs 

Recent students in my birth class took my suggestion to heart, singing “Las Mañanitas,” from their Mexican culture, to their unborn baby frequently. The dad would lie with his head on the mother’s pregnant belly as they sang. They even videotaped sessions while the mother was having a non-stress test that showed the baby’s heart rate steadying when the dad was singing, and rising when he was not.  We also see the dad singing to their sweet little daughter right after the birth. Though she cries pretty hard when being suctioned and rubbed with blanket, she calms down with his singing.

I’ve just completed a film for children (9). In the film, we see 4 year old Maia singing  ”Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to her baby sister before birth and again right after birth. Neve, her sister, calms down when she hears Maia singing the familiar song.

Enjoy these heartwarming scenes in the video below.

Conclusion

Maia sings to her newborn sister ©Penny Simkin

In conclusion, when parents sing one (or possibly a few) songs repeatedly to their child, before and after birth, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a unique, meaningful and fun connection with their baby. The child already knows and loves the song as sung by his/her parents more than any other song, sung by anyone else. Parents always have their voice with them and can use it to comfort, soothe, and play with their child for years to come. Parents have the opportunity prenatally to give their baby a gift that becomes a gift for them as well.

Singing to the baby before and after birth is a lovely and very special thing to do. Would you consider introducing this ritual to your students, clients and patients?  Have you already done so?  How has it been received?  Do you have any stories about parents who have practiced this connection? Please share in the comments section, I would love to hear about it.  If we all get the word out to expectant families, it could have a very positive impact.

References:

  1.  Brazelton B. Cramer B. (1991)The Earliest Relationship: Parents, Infants, and The Drama Of Early Attachment . Da Capo Press Cambridge, MA.
  2. De Casper A. 1974, as described in Klaus M, Klaus P, Kennell J. 2000. Your Amazing Newborn. Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA..
  3. Odent M. 1984, Birth Reborn. Pantheon Books: New York
  4. Klaus M, Klaus P, Kennell J. 2000, Your Amazing Newborn. Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA.
  5. Verny T, Kelly J. (1982)   The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. Dell: NY
  6. Chamberlain D. (2013) Windows to the Womb. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, CA.
  7. Lubitzky R, Mimouri F, Dollberg S, Reifen R, Ashbel G, Mandel D. 2010. Effect of music by Mozart on energy expenditure in growing preterm infants. Pediatrics 126;e24-e28. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-0990.
  8. Simkin P. (2012) Singing to the baby before and after birth.  International Doula 19(3):30-31
  9. Simkin P. (2013) “There’s a Baby: A Children’s Film About New Babies.” PassionflowersProductions: Seattle.

 

Babies, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant , , , , , ,

  1. avatar
    Denise Hynd
    February 26th, 2013 at 16:50 | #1

    How sad that the staff are sucking and rubbing a baby when it is alert and fine!!

  2. February 26th, 2013 at 17:23 | #2

    I agree, Denise. I had hoped that this would be the perfect video, with no unnecessary interventions, but it does make me happy that the baby had the soothing sounds of her dad singing her song, to make the disturbances a bit less distressing (I hope!).

  3. February 27th, 2013 at 08:53 | #3

    My husband and I are musicians, and are constantly singing. They day after my first child was born, we were almost in tears. He was fed, changed burped, held, and nothing would console him. We needed to rehearse for a wedding we were singing in that day, and the moment we began, his crying ceased. It occurred to us that it had probably been the longest stretch he had gone without hearing our voices singing! As a doula I have not yet made a point to encourage my clients to try this, but will now.

  4. February 27th, 2013 at 13:54 | #4

    Amy,
    Thanks for your story.Your thought that your baby missed your singing is very touching, and I’ll bet it’s true. Please do spread the word to your clients. We need the world to sing more! I like to think that stress hormones subside in the mother and the baby when she sings. It’s good for both of them!

  5. avatar
    Priscilla wozniak
    March 4th, 2013 at 20:09 | #5

    I am a midwife and.have an 11 week old baby. I m separated from my family due to husbands military role and posting . My mother sang to my baby in utero on the phone! She used.to really jump arounwhen she did this. Now my mom sings to her on phone and she listens laughs aand smiles and responds with her own voice too! She definitely recognizes my mom’s voice :)

  6. avatar
    Elisa Beebe
    March 12th, 2013 at 14:48 | #6

    When I was pregnant I made a playlist for my iPod of songs I like that I thought my baby might like as well. During my 3rd trimester I played the playlist every day during my morning commute and sang along. These became the songs I sang to him once he was born. These songs, and a few more that I’ve since added, shape his day. He has a morning massage song, a bath time song, a goodnight song, an “I’m feeling cranky” song, etc. My husband has his own songs he likes to sing as well.

  7. avatar
    Annette Michel Hart
    March 14th, 2013 at 12:24 | #7

    I love this! I love to sing and sang to my son after he was born. It seemed like the natural thing to do. I was amazed that anytime he began to cry, like in his car seat, all I had to do was begin singing one of our usual children’s songs he would stop crying right away. And if I stopped singing, he would begin to cry and then stop when I started singing again. It was really amazing! He still loves music 8 years later and is often humming or singing a tune. :)

  8. avatar
    Sara
    June 20th, 2014 at 07:11 | #8

    I thought this video of two families singing prenatally and postpartum was amazing! What a way to bond even before baby is born, and what an example of how quickly babies learn and respond to verbal stimuli. I plan to not only use this with my prenatal clients, but for myself as well. I see no harm in trying this even before 30 weeks gestational age; I’m at about 6 or 7 weeks along but I will start doing this immediately. What a way to calm baby that’s natural and loving and fun!

  9. June 21st, 2014 at 17:43 | #9

    Hi. Sara,
    You’re right on! How great that you can do this with oyur own baby! If you’re so inclined, when you are 36 weeks+ pregnant, will you videotape yourself or you and your partner singing together or alone,and then videotape yourselves singing to the baby afterwards (giving the baby a couple of minutes for those lung-clearing cries). I’d love to see it and I’ll bet many others would as well. Have a great pregnancy!
    Penny Simkin

  10. June 22nd, 2014 at 06:55 | #10

    Hi. Sara,
    You’re right on! How great that you can do this with oyur own baby! If you’re so inclined, when you are 36 weeks+ pregnant, will you videotape yourself or you and your partner singing together or alone,and then videotape yourselves singing to the baby afterwards (giving the baby a couple of minutes for those lung-clearing cries). I’d love to see it and I’ll bet many others would as well. Have a great pregnancy!
    Penny Simkin

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