What's Music -- and What's Not -- to Your Baby's Ears
By Maureen ConnollyImagine what an adjustment the first few days and weeks of life must be for your newborn. For the last nine months, your baby has been nestled in your womb, listening to the steady thump of your heartbeat and the swoosh of amniotic fluid that envelops his tiny little body. Upon exiting this safe environment he enters into a world filled with all kinds of sounds. The ability to hear sound is a true gift that brings much pleasure and will eventually allow your child to develop language skills. But there's also unfiltered noise-like the steady hum of an air conditioner, a busy highway, or loud television-to contend with. This type of noise can create a form of stress that easily overwhelms an infant, says Don Campbell, a world-renowned authority in music and author of The Mozart Effect for Children: Awakening Your Child's Mind, Health, and Creativity with Music (William Morrow, 2000). According to Campbell, a steady diet of noise can lead to a baby who is more agitated, fussy, and irritable. "When exposed to noise for an extended period a baby will often fall asleep out of exhaustion," he says.
So what's Campbell's advice to parents of a newborn? "Take an auditory assessment of your home and do what you can to turn down some of the noise. You might think it's normal to have a computer and a television running in one room, a radio and a humidifier in another, but from your baby's perspective, you've got a noisy house." (These constant sounds can also negatively affect older children and adults.)
Since infants tend to spend a good deal of time in their bedrooms -- doing everything from sleeping, napping, playing, being changed and read to -- Campbell recommends creating a space that is protected from intrusive sounds, such as a TV on in another room or the roar of traffic from a busy highway during rush hour. A carpet does a great job at muffling noise, as do shades and curtains on windows. You might also try placing the crib away from a wall that has a television playing on the other side. When your baby is ready for sleep, Campbell suggests singing softly to your child or playing a tape of your recorded voice or a CD with soothing lullabies. He recommends two CDs he's produced for Spring Hill Music: A Bright Beginning: Music for Newborns, Vol 1. and Mozart for Babies: Nighty Night. (Available on Amazon) Both include soothing symphonies, sonatas and quartets that are specially selected for newborns because of their high frequency notes, a sound that is very pleasing to an infant. He also suggests playing children's songs in many languages "so that the ear beings to recognize a wider range of sounds than just those of the parent."
But music is so powerful and such an amazing learning tool for your baby, don't limit it to the bedroom! Playing soft, classical music during feedings has a calming effect which aids with digestion and makes your baby more comfortable. Once your baby can sit and play, schedule a regular music session each day -- even if it's only for 10 or 15 minutes. Put on child-friendly tunes and break out the musical instruments (a box of rice, a plastic spoon and a bowl are all you need).
Incorporating song into your baby's routine is another way to use the power of music. Campbell says that if your baby tends to resist or fuss during diaper changes or being strapped into his car seat, for example, try singing a made-up song about the experience. Something like, "It's time to change your diaper, change your diaper, change your diaper. Here we go. Here we go." "The repetition of the words organizes the brain in a different way. When the words are sung there's less of an emotional negative charge than simply saying "time to change your diaper or to get in your car seat," says Campbell.
Singing little songs throughout the day can also be a major stress-reliever for you, the parent or caregiver. "If your baby is pulling on a cabinet door that should be off limits, rather than just say "Don't do that," you might try singing it," he says. "Chances are pretty good that your baby won't stop what she's doing right away just because you're singing it, but the simple rhythm of singing will help you release stress."
Ultimately, limiting excessive noise and using music to enhance your child's speech, language, motor skills, and rhythmic perception abilities will make for a stronger body and mind. Just hearing this is bound to be music to your ears.