Babies love music, and music is good for their development. If you can’t carry a tune, don’t fret. There are lots of ways to bring music into your baby’s life. For hundreds of years, mothers have 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.
Learn about it: Because music is calming, music facilitates language development and most of all, music is enjoyable for both parents and children. Recent studies have even indicated that exposure to classical music might even increase a baby’s intelligence – the “Mozart Effect.” Regardless, it is clear that the more music your baby hears and the more “musical” connections her brain makes, the more music will play a role in her later life.
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 over and over again, she will recognize – and feel comforted by – 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. For your upset baby, music can serve the very practical purpose of calming her down. Your baby doesn’t care whether you are completely tone deaf or an opera star, as long as she hears the comforting sound of your voice.
Here are some ideas for how to introduce your newborn to singing and music:
• When your baby is upset, hold her close to you, sing to her and dance and sway with the music. The combination of close body contact, movement and music can do wonders to soothe a crying baby.
• Try singing and listening to a variety of different types of music to see how your baby reacts. When she is upset or sleepy, she may respond to lullabies. When she is cheerful, she may love to dance to your favorite pop song with you. When she is quiet and alert, she may like to listen to classical music.
• Sing the songs or lullabies you remember from your childhood; you may find yourself tearing up as you do. If you don’t remember the words to the songs, check out a book from the library – or, even better, ask your mother or father. 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 bath or a massage.
– Sing the same lullaby every night as you put your baby to bed.
– Keep a fun CD 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 her diaper, turn on the musical mobile near the changing table.
– Put on some classical music during your baby’s bath.
– Play your favorite songs during the “fussy hour” when you have to prepare dinner and your baby needs attention.
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 delight in seeing how she begins to rock, wiggle, bob and dance to the music she hears. 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 her little toes) or Ride a Horse to Banbury Cross (jiggle her on your lap). Or hide a music box in the room and go “hunting” for the sound of the music. When she is a bit older, play Ring-Around-the-Rosie or London Bridge.
• Continue to 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 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 grey” 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 noise with these instruments. (Which is why aunts and uncles delight in buying these for their siblings’ children!)
• 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.
• Get “read and sing” books for your baby. The Raffi Songs to Read books (Five Little Ducks, Baby Beluga and many others) are excellent. Any song book with animals will also be a hit, as babies love to point, sing and dance – and moo – to the tune of songs like, Old MacDonald Had a Farm.
Elizabeth is the author of The No-Cry Solution series of parenting books. Her latest book is The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Your Child to Eat – and Eat Healthy. This article is an excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by Elizabeth Pantley (McGraw-Hill, 2003). For more information, visit www.pantley.com/elizabeth/.
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