Rock-a-bye baby

A mu­sic ther­a­pist shares her ef­fec­tive lul­laby tips to help you soothe your baby into a sweet slum­ber

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

Ask your mum what bed­time ad­vice was around when she was young and she might re­mem­ber some pretty star­tling stuff, in­clud­ing no cud­dles at bed­time to putting ba­bies to sleep on their tum­mies. But one thing that hasn’t changed over the years – how­ever many cen­turies back you go – is mums singing lullabies to set­tle their ba­bies to sleep. And that’s be­cause lullabies can work sleepy won­ders.

Why? For starters, hear­ing is the first sense to de­velop, from as early as 16 weeks into preg­nancy, so your baby has known the sound of your voice since then. Re­search shows that ba­bies have a pref­er­ence for live singing rather than recorded sound, and that they pre­fer singing over speech, so she loves that lul­laby even more than her bed­time story.

Your baby also prefers your voice to any other sound, so you re­ally are the best per­son to be singing her a lul­laby, what­ever you might think of your singing voice!

We’re still learn­ing about how mu­sic af­fects the brain, but we do know that it can arouse us, calm us, sharpen our senses, change our mood, in­crease or lower our heart rate, con­nect us to oth­ers and re­lieve pain.

Amaz­ingly, when it comes to the care of pre­ma­ture ba­bies, suck­ing, feed­ing, oxy­gen saturation and sleep are all im­proved when mu­sic is used as part of their care. This all leads to faster weight gain and some­times re­sults in pre-term ba­bies be­ing able to go home sooner than if they hadn’t been ex­posed to mu­sic. So there’s no doubt about it, mu­sic is good for ba­bies!

Singing lullabies to your baby is also a great way of bond­ing with her. Mu­sic im­pacts parts of our brain in­volved in em­pa­thy, co-op­er­a­tion and trust, and it en­hances so­cial bonds. And lullabies can strengthen your re­la­tion­ship with your baby.

Bed­time is a time of sep­a­ra­tion and, for your baby, the lul­laby acts as re­as­sur­ance that you are still there, that she is safe and loved night and day. It tells her that it is safe for her to fall asleep, and this feel­ing of se­cu­rity al­lows her to do so peace­fully. And it works for you too.

Sci­en­tists have shown that singing re­leases oxy­tocin and en­dor­phins – the ‘happy hor­mones’ also re­leased dur­ing labour, birth and breast­feed­ing – in the brain, mak­ing you feel con­nected, trust­ing and lov­ing. And these feelings are the be­drock of your mother-baby bond.

Also, singing to your baby low­ers your own heart rate, in­creases oxy­gen lev­els in your blood­stream and de­creases your stress lev­els. Your baby is very in­tu­itive to your mood and will be com­forted by your re­laxed state. So the act of singing calms you both and binds you to­gether. And it’s be­cause of all this that, once your baby is fa­mil­iar with the two or three lullabies you and she pre­fer, she’ll quickly re­lax when she hears the first few words or notes of the tune. And that’s when lullabies re­ally start to work their magic. I know be­cause, as well as be­ing a mu­sic ther­a­pist, I’m a mum of four chil­dren. So when it came to set­tling my ba­bies to sleep, I put the the­ory into prac­tice, and learned a few tricks along the way. To get the best re­sults from your lul­laby, have your baby snug­gled up in a dimly lit or dark­ened room, cosy and po­si­tioned ready for sleep in her cot. Then sing the lul­laby un­til you are sure that she is drift­ing off.

Lullabies are your best friend when it comes to help­ing her get to sleep away from home


There are nights when I’ve sung a lul­laby on re­peat to a sick child more times than I could count, but it al­ways works its magic.

An­other trick I use is to creep out of the room while still singing. Keep the lul­laby go­ing, as you go, and the sound drifts gently away. This way, there’s no sud­den si­lence to jolt baby into a wake­ful state. Fad­ing away the lul­laby is par­tic­u­larly help­ful when she has wo­ken dur­ing the night. Then, al­ways hum or sing to an open ‘ah’ sound so your baby isn’t stim­u­lated by the words. Keep your sound smooth and even qui­eter than your singing at bed­time to lull her back to sleep. Avoid any stim­u­lat­ing eye con­tact – your con­nec­tion with her is all about your voice. This is a great com­forter if teething pain or a noise has nudged her out of sleep. I’ve hummed lullabies from out­side the bed­room door to great ef­fect!

As well as help­ing to calm a frac­tious baby at bed­time, I found lullabies are your best friend when it comes to help­ing her get to sleep away from home. The room and all its sights, sounds and smells will be new to her and stim­u­lat­ing, but start singing and your voice and your spe­cial lul­laby are fa­mil­iar and she knows this is a cue for sleep­ing. Sim­i­larly, if you are try­ing to get her to nap in her pram in­stead of her cot, her fa­mil­iar lul­laby al­lows her to switch off and go to sleep.

An­other trick is to learn a lul­laby in a dif­fer­ent lan­guage – you prob­a­bly know the words to Frère Jac­ques. Sing this when she’s in a lively state at bed­time and she’ll love lis­ten­ing to the sounds, which can be more sooth­ing than lis­ten­ing to – and pro­cess­ing the mean­ing of – the words of the song.

A favourite trick of mine to set­tle a toddler is to adapt a favourite lul­laby to be more fun at the start, maybe by chang­ing some words to in­clude her name or some­thing about her day. This re­ally grabs her at­ten­tion, but be­cause she as­so­ci­ates the melody with bed­time and sleep, you can then, over a few verses, make the tran­si­tion into her usual sleepy lul­laby. Slow the speed, calm your tone, make your notes smoother and longer and your baby will be lulled into that safe, sleepy state as you snug­gle her, still singing. Take it down an­other notch by mov­ing from singing words into hum­ming, and you will find your­selves both calm­ing down.

Think about whether you could use lullabies to set­tle and soothe her at other times? If she’s hurt, or just had her jabs, could singing her favourite lul­laby in­stantly give her those feelings of safety, com­fort, re­as­sur­ance and con­nec­tion with you? And would it help you to feel calm too? Try it and put the magic of lullabies to good use.

Your toddler will be lulled into that safe sleepy state as you snug­gle her.

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