By Francesca Farruggio
New moms tend to strive for the most idyllic, natural experience possible, whether they’re eating organic veggies or singing lovely lullabies to their babies. And when it comes to the latter, they know that singing to their infant is crucial bonding time, and can ease their baby into a calm or sleepy state of mind.
However, most of us don’t actually know why lullabies have such magical powers, and are dying to know why — after all, music is our forte… am I right ladies?!
So, we did some research and came across an interesting study by cognitive neuroscientists, led by Laura Cirelli of the University of Toronto Mississauga.
As the March 2018 study concluded, lullabies soothe both moms and babies simultaneously, while playsongs increase babies’ attention and displays of positive emotion toward their mothers. To figure out exactly how singing affected both the mother and child, researchers asked participating mothers repeatedly sang “Twinkle Twinkle” to their babies who were sitting in a high chair facing them. The mothers alternated between singing in a playful way or a soothing manner. At the same time, researchers were tracking the mothers’ and babies’ arousal responses, measured through skin conductance and behavior.
“When we are excited or stressed, arousal levels increase,” Cirelli explains. “When we are calm, they decrease.”
The researchers found that the moms’ arousal levels were higher during the playful song, compared with the soothing song. And they found coordinated decreases in arousal for both the moms and babies as the soothing songs progressed.
Cirelli points to past studies showing that when people move together in synchrony, they feel socially connected and are later more likely to help and cooperate with one another.
With that in mind, we can better understand how the brain responds positively to the feeling of being connected to another person through the rhythms in music.
Now, does this mean you have to belt out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?” Not necessarily. If you prefer to sing Ozzy Osbourne lyrics or croon Frank Sinatra tunes, that’s fine too!
According to my very own rockmommy, I was never satisfied when listening to the basics, both before and after I was born. She believes this is large in part to my dad being a diehard blues instrumental fan and musician. From the moment they first saw my heartbeat, my parents couldn’t help but get into a routine of playing their favorites to me, including many songs by Eric Clapton. They viewed this as a way to feel close to each other, but what they didn’t know at the time was how much it was affecting me, even though I wasn’t out in the world yet.
I arrived just like any other baby, screaming and crying. My parents did what any other parents would do: They cradled me and spoke softly in my ears to help me feel comfortable and safe. But guess what? It wasn’t until my dad pulled out his guitar and started strumming some familiar cords that finally calmed me and I gave them my first big smile… And to this day, I find peace of mind by hearing similar blues-like rhythms.
Nonetheless, the point of this study (and this blog post) is to show you that no matter if you’re singing the Bruno Mars song you’ve got stuck in your head, a lullaby classic like “Hush Little Baby,” or strumming some chords on your guitar, science has proven that it’s music, as a whole, that will bring you and your baby closer together.
And with that… ROCK ON mamas!
Francesca Farruggio is a contributing writer for Rockmommy.