Mothers singing to their babies is a universal behaviour that filters through all other cultural boundaries and parenting traditions. And now it seems there is much more to singing to your little one than first meets the eye (or ear).

Shannon de l'Etoile, professor of music therapy at the University of Miami's school of music, says that there is much more to infant-directed song than was first thought,

"We know from previous research that infants have the innate ability to process music in a sophisticated manner.

Initially, I set out to identify infant behaviours in response to live infant-directed singing compared to other common maternal interactions such as reading books and playing with toys.

One of the main goals of the research was to clarify the meaning of infant-directed singing as a human behaviour and as a means to elicit unique behavioural responses from infants."

Professor de l'Etoile explored the role of infant-directed singing in relation to the special bond between mums and babies. She filmed 70 infants responding to six different interactions: their mothers singing an assigned song, 'strangers' singing an assigned song, mothers singing a song of choice, mothers reading books, mothers playing with toys, and mothers and babies listening to recorded music. The music professor says that the study's results were promising, but also raised further questions,

"High cognitive scores during infant-directed singing suggested that engagement through song is just as effective as book reading or toy play in maintaining infant attention, and far more effective than listening to recorded music.

Our findings revealed that when infants were engaged during song, their mother's instincts are also on high alert. Intuitively, when infant engagement declined, the mother adjusted her pitch, tempo or key to stimulate and regulate baby's response."

According to de l'Etoile, for mums with postnatal depression, infant-directed singing creates a unique and mutually beneficial situation. Through song, babies are provided with much-needed sensory stimulation that can focus their attention. She says that mums simultaneously experience a much-needed distraction from the negative emotions and thoughts associated with PND, while also feeling empowered as a parent,


"Mothers around the world sing to their infants in remarkably similar ways, and infants prefer these specialised songs.

The tempo and key certainly don't need to be perfect or professional for mothers and infants to interact through song. In fact, infants may be drawn to the personalised tempo and pitch of their mother, which encourages them to direct their gaze toward their mum, and ultimately communicate through this gaze."

Ok mamas, all together now "twinkle twinkle little star..."

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