Posts Tagged ‘Michel Odent’

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

February 19th, 2013 by avatar

Regular contributor Penny Simkin shares her experiences with parents who sing to their baby in utero and then continue after birth and looks at what the research says about this practice in this two part blog piece.  Part two can be found here. Join me in reading about some unique situations that Penny shares as she explores this opportunity for parents to bond with their unborn child.  – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.


People have sung to their babies forever. Every culture has lullabies and children’s songs that are passed down through the generations. New ones are written and shared and the custom goes on –a rich part of the fabric of human civilization. These songs are designed to relax babies, calm their fears, or entertain and amuse them throughout childhood. As we have learned more about the life and capabilities of the fetus, we have realized that the fetus can hear clearly for months before birth, and also can discriminate sounds and develop preferences for some sounds over others. Furthermore, at birth, newborns respond to familiar sounds by becoming calm and orienting toward the source of the sound, and even indicate their preferences for familiar voices and words over the unfamiliar.

Newborn babies prefer their parents’ and other familiar voices over those of strangers (1), and they prefer hearing a story that their mother had read frequently in utero rather than an unfamiliar story or the familiar one read by someone other than their mother (2).  Fetuses hear, remember, have preferences, respond to, and discriminate among differences — in sounds, music, voices.

These exciting findings have inspired educators to advocate prenatal learning through recordings played through a mother’s abdomen (of languages, music, and other things). They have inspired birth activists and baby advocates to provide a safe enriching environment for the fetus. Advocates of prenatal bonding emphasize communication between parent and unborn child as a powerful way to strengthen the bond.

I’d like to offer my take on this phenomenon and urge everyone who works with expectant parents to tell them about some unique and heart-warming benefits of singing or reciting rhymes to their unborn babies.

I think my interest in parents singing to their babies prenatally began in the 1980s when I first read Michel Odent’s book, “Birth Reborn”(3). Odent is a French physician who has always been ahead of his time. He had a unique and original maternity care program at his hospital in Pithiviers, France. His book had a great influence on my understanding of normal birth, and the book is still worth reading today, along with all his subsequent ones. One lovely aspect of his program is particularly relevant to the topic of this blog post. The program included a weekly singing group at the hospital, attended by pregnant women, their partners, families with young babies, the midwives, and Odent himself. The group was led by an opera singer who believed singing to be important for fetuses, babies and those who care for them. Odent’s account inspired me to invite Jamie Shilling, a folk singer who had recently taken my birth class, to bring her guitar and her baby to my classes a half hour early each week and sing with the expectant parents. That went on very successfully for several class series, then the groups decided to combine and carry on in a monthly sing- along for expectant parents and new families, in a private home –Although the groups  eventually disbanded, they provided many parents with opportunities to sing together and connect with their babies and each other in relaxing and peaceful surroundings. A high point during that time was when Michel Odent came to Seattle to give a conference and he agreed to come to one of our sing-alongs. See the photo of Jamie leading the group of expectant and new parents, with Michel Odent and myself participating. He taught us the song, “Little Black Cat” in French.

© Penny Simkin

I couldn’t help but think during those times, how the unborn and new babies must love hearing their parents singing. Seeing the parents caressing the mother’s belly as they sang was heartwarming. That happened  in the mid- 1980s, when much research on the capabilities of the unborn and newborn baby was beginning to be published. Recalling those special gatherings, I have always suggested to my students in childbirth class that they sing to their unborn babies, or play their favorite recorded music, with the thought that the baby will remember it and be soothed by it after birth.

But it was one couple, whom I served as a birth doula, who took my suggestion to another level, and showed me much more about the value of singing to the unborn baby. They were having their second child, hoping for a VBAC. When they discovered that they were having a boy, they decided to give their baby the song, “Here Comes the Sun” and sang it to him often during pregnancy. The VBAC was not possible, and as the cesarean was underway, and the baby boy, crying lustily, was raised for the parents to see, the father began belting out the baby’s song. Though the mother didn’t have a strong voice under the circumstances, she also sang. The baby turned his head, turned his face right toward his father and calmed down while his father sang. Time stopped. As I looked around the operating room, I saw tears appear on the surgical masks.

It’s a moment I’ll never forget, and it was that event that taught me the value, not only of singing prenatally, but also, singing the same song every day. Not only does the baby hear his or her parents’ voices, not only does he or she hear music, but the baby also gets to know one song very well. Familiarity adds another feature to this concept, because we know that fetuses have memory and prefer the familiar. Think for a moment about what this might have meant to our cesarean-born baby –suddenly being removed from the warmth, wetness, and dimness of the womb with its mother’s reassuring heartbeat, into the cold bright noisy operating room. The baby’s transition to extrauterine life is hectic and full of new sensations. He cries reflexively, but perhaps also out of shock and discomfort. Then he hears something familiar – voices and music and the sounds of words that he has heard many times before – something he likes. He calms down, and seeks the source of this familiar song. Everyone present is moved by this gift to the baby from his parents.

I’ve become passionate about this idea as a way to enhance bonding between parents and babies, but also as a unique and very practical measure for soothing a fussing baby or a sick baby who can’t be held or breastfed. Please join me on Thursday, for Part Two on this topic when I will continue the discussion including research evidence that supports this concept: practical suggetions for childbirth professionals to share with expectant parents; and some very endearing film clips of families singing to their babies.


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 

Cesarean Birth, Childbirth Education, Doula Care, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) , , , , , ,

Healthy Birth Practice #6, Keeping Mother and Baby Together – It’s Best for Mother, Baby, and Breastfeeding

June 28th, 2011 by avatar

Mother and Child Reunion

The goal of Lamaze “Healthy Birth Practice #6, Keeping Mother and Baby Together – It’s Best for Mother, Baby, and Breastfeeding” is to encourage and support mothers so they may confidently insist that they not be separated from their newborns, and be allowed to have ample opportunity for skin-to-skin contact without delay or interruption, as recommended by a multitude of sources concerned with infant and maternal health.

Dr. Lennart Righard’s seminal study1, published in the Lancet in 1990, gave rise to his famous video, “Delivery Self Attachment”2, which illustrated parts of that research.  It shows babies who, when left undisturbed on their mothers’ bodies immediately after birth, find the breast by themselves, crawl to it and suckle with competence. It observes also those babies whose abilities are either impaired or negated because of exposure to intrapartum meds, separation from their mothers after birth, or both.

“Newborns have a great need for love which makes a separation between mother and child most unfortunate”3, Lennart is quoted as saying, poignantly, in a blurb on the packaging of his video. A banner below that quote, set in 16-point type and caps, proclaims “THIS SIX MINUTE VIDEO WILL CHANGE PROTOCOLS!”

It is ”unfortunate” indeed that  many mothers still experience resistance to this best-evidence protocol; hospital staff and caregivers still whisk newborns away for routine procedures, processing and observation after just a few minutes of time with their mothers.   As with so many maternity-care practices, the protocols that Righard thought with certainty would change, are still in place, even as the evidence for keeping mother and baby together mounts.  Some state Departments of Health, as that in Ohio, have got it right, and officially recommend skin-to-skin. That state prints and distributes cards for its WIC program that read, in part:  “Hold me, Mom. Babies who are held skin-to-skin on their mother‘s chest right after birth are happier and less likely to cry, are more likely to latch on and [sic] breastfeeding well, have better heart rates, have better temperatures than under a warmer, have better blood sugars, burn less [sic]  calories than under a warmer. So, be sure to tell your doctor and the hospital nurses that you want to hold your baby for at least the first hour after the birth, skin-to-skin (baby naked, not wrapped in a blanket). That‘s the best way to introduce your baby to the world”4. (Emphasis mine.) How can we account for the fact that a mother is advised by a government agency to “be sure” to tell her doc and staff to give her best-evidence care? Even for this well-documented and uncomplicated course of action, we cannot count on our caregivers to act reliably in the interests of mother and baby.  Again, a Healthy Birth Practice can be read as a subtle warning: Do not let them take your baby from you for the first hour!

Mothers have always needed to keep their babies with them, and supporting evidence for that urgent desire has been around for quite a while.  In 1979, Michel Odent proposed, in a theory and review article on human ecology, and under the aegis of his Primal Research Center, that the natural ecology  for an infant is to be skin-to-skin (S2S) with the mother. The Human Ecolog deals with “primal” health, a branch of epidemiology that brings together studies exploring correlations between what happens during the primal period (fetal life, perinatal period and the year following birth) and what occurs later in life in terms of health and personality traits. The treatment of mother and newborn as an inseparable dyad is the basis for those studies and can be found compiled in the Primal Health Research Data base 5.

With the understanding of what is best for the “primal” health of the newborn, and in light of the wisdom of Healthy Birth Practice #6, the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative of the WHO and UNICEF very specifically and unequivocally advises that mothers and infants remain together 24 hours a day.  As of May 2011, out of 3,000 or so hospital maternity centers and free standing birth centers in this country, only 110 have achieved the status of Baby Friendly.  No wonder women must be advised and exhorted to ask or demand treatment that should be just pro forma in every LDR. Why must women spend precious energy and focus during labor to advocate for best-evidence care for themselves when that kind of care should just be expectations met?  Period.

Kangaroo Care, “a universally and biologically sound method of care for all newborns,” 6 incorporating S2S, breastfeeding and support of mother and baby, has become a standard of care in many NICUs.  While there is no citation to back up that statistic, Wikipedia represents that fully 82% of NICUs in the US practice KC.  That is not surprising, given the wealth of studies going all the way back to 1979 that show how effectively KC helps at-risk babies i.e., improving and normalizing vital signs, stabilizing breathing and heart rate and normalizing glucose and stress levels. Many studies can be accessed at the kangaroo care website: http://www.kangaroomothercare.com.   Kangaroo Care babies have been shown to have significantly higher scores in visual and auditory  orientation, alertness, cuddliness, self-quieting, attention and state regulation, and higher scores at 6 months on the Infant Temperament Questionnaire than standard-care infants.  Kangaroo care has been shown to promote neonatal behavioral organization and enhanced developmental outcomes through the first year of life. 7Is it such a stretch to extrapolate that practice to all term healthy newborns whose need for their mothers is just as acute as that of those in NICUs?

There are some fascinating studies about interactions between mother and baby immediately after birth that investigate “the  ‘smellscape’ of mother’s breast: the effects of odor on neonatal arousal, oral and visual responses”.8 Here are just a couple of  observations from a multitude of studies available: “volatile compounds originating in areolar secretions or milk, release mouthing, stimulate eye-opening and delay and reduce crying in newborns”.9 “The odor of human milk is more attractive to human newborns than formula milk…independent of postnatal feeding experience.”10

The skin-to-skin interactions between mother and babe are maturational for newborn; the contact stimulates the vagal nerve, causing increased growth in size of the villi in the newborn gut, which provides a larger surface area for the absorption of nutrition. Nancy Mohrbacher, author and breastfeeding expert, in her article “Rethinking Swaddling” 11 has pointed out the differences between the infant held skin-to-skin and those who were wrapped and held by their mothers.  She cites studies showing that swaddling delays the first breastfeed and leads to less effective suckling, greater weight loss, and more jaundice. Routine swaddling has negative effects on the infant whether in the hospital or at home.

In the main, Healthy Birth Practice #6 addresses a mother’s time in the hospital, to promote behavior that is really just a prelude to how mother and baby should proceed together when they go home. But along with that vital and valuable information, another aspect of a new mother’s experience needs to be examined and promoted… we must begin to examine with mothers something that is rarely mentioned, rarely talked about by OBs, and rarely discussed as part of the normal and natural part of a new life coming into the world…the remarkable abilities and competence of the newborn.  Birthing of the placenta gets more coverage in birth literature than do the stellar capacities of a new baby.

The Righard video of newborn behavior amazes because we see the antithesis of what first-time mothers imagine that their infants will be like.  Popular images show a greasy-eyed newborn, wrapped up and be-blanketed as tight as a little taco, handed over to mom to hold. The Righard video, familiar to many of us, causes gasps at the first images of that lively newborn pushing its little legs against its mother’s abdomen, bobbing its little head with power and purpose, and performing the initial latch with brio.  Mothers need to be told that, even if they have had intrapartum medications, they must continually give their newborns the opportunity to perform as they are hard-wired to do, and we must emphasize that newborns are capable and competent. Dr. Christina Smillie’s approach to breastfeeding…and her video “Baby-Led Breastfeeding12 rely on the baby’s instinctive responses to seek and find the breast when they are allowed to stay on their mother’s bodies.  It demonstrates without equivocation how well babies can navigate about to find the breast. Every mother-to-be should be told about the amazing capabilities of her newborn, and encouraged to spend time every day with her newborn skin-to-skin.  That information should be part of every childbirth education syllabus.

A couple of videos that came out this year also address that important hour or so after birth, and illustrate the nine stages through which the newborn progresses.  Sponsored by the Healthy Children Project, the video called The Magical Hour13 and based on the research of Anne-Marie Widstrom and colleagues, is aimed at parents-to-be, and shows newborns in all the stages of adaptation to life outside from Stage One, the Birth Cry, to Stage Nine, Sleep. The other video, Skin to Skin in the First Hour after Birth: Practical Advice for Staff after Vaginal and Cesarean Birth 14, also from the Healthy Children Project, is aimed at hospital staff, delineating the same nine stages as The Magical Hour. It lays out guidelines for the treatment of mother and baby immediately after birth, whether vaginal or cesarean, with the view that the implementation of direct and uninterrupted contact between mother and newborn is the perfect beginning for a new family.





1-      Lancet, Vol. 336,1105-07

2-      Delivery Self Attachment, 1995 Lennart Righard & Kittie Franz, Geddes Productions, Los Angeles, CA

3-      Ibid

4-       Ohio Department of Health. (2008). Hold me, Mom. Columbus, Oh: Ohio Dept.  of Health Printing, Warehouse # 3977.23.

5- www.primalhealthresearch.com Odent, M. (2006).  Homo Super-predator to Homo Ecologicus. http://www.wombecology.com/homo.html#top.


7-Fukida M, Moriuchi, Akiyama T, Nugent JK, Brazelton, TB, Arisawa K, Takahashi T, & Saito H (2002) The effects of kangaroo care on neonatal neurobehavioral organization, infant development and temperament in healthy infants through one year. J Perinatology, 22(5).384-379

8-Doucet S, Soussignan R, Sagot P, Schaal B, Dev Psychobiol 49(2); 129-38, 2007 Equipe d’Ethologie et de Psycholbiologie Sensorielle Centre des Sciences du Gout Umr 5170 CNRS Dijon, France. doucet@cesg.cnrs.fr


10-Mizuno K, Mizuno N, Shinohara T, et al; Mother-infant Skin-to-skin contact after delivery results in early recognition of own mother’s milk odour. Acta Paediatrica 93(12):1640-1645, 2004 katsuorobi@aol.com

11-Rethinking Swaddling, International Journal of Childbirth Education, 2010

12-Baby-Led Breastfeeding, Geddes Productions, Los Angeles, CA, 2007, Christina M Smillie, Ivy Makelin, Kittie    Franz

13-The Magical Hour; Holding Your Baby for the First Hour After Birth. DVD Produced by Kajsa Brimdyr, Kristin Svensson and Ann-Marie Widstrom, www.healthychildren.cc

14-Skin to skin in the First Hour After Birth: Practical Advice for Staff after Vaginal         and Cesarean Birth,  DVD Produced by  Kajsa Brimdyr, Kristin Svensson and Ann-Marie Widstrom, www.healthychildren.cc

Posted by:  Jackie Levine, LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), CLC

Baby Friendly Initiative, Breastfeeding, Evidence Based Medicine, Films about Pregnancy, Healthy Birth Practices, Healthy Care Practices, Patient Advocacy, Practice Guidelines, Uncategorized , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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