Friday, October 1, 2010

Music to Moms’ Ears

A Guest Post by Taryn Barrette, RD

In past posts we’ve written about various ways to use repetitive movements or sounds to soothe an upset or crying infant. Today we’ll focus on one more tool for soothing a crying baby: music!

Babies are exposed to regular beats even before they are born. The beat of your heart and theirs’ combined with the rush of blood surging through arteries and veins provide a veritable anatomical symphony - one which is rudely interrupted by the onslaught of noises, smells, sights, and interactions that distract a newborn once out of the womb. In the same fashion that rocking and speaking softly to your baby provides a constant repetition of the same stimuli, musical beats can supply the same soothing repetition to help your baby calm down. Whether you play music or sing to your baby, researchers have demonstrated that just 30 minutes of music per day can help babies cry less often and help mothers become calmer.

Researchers have shown that preemie babies who have been diagnosed as ‘inconsolable criers’ respond with decreased frequency and duration of crying when exposed to recorded music. Not only does crying decrease, another team of researchers found that music elicited a physiological response. In those babies who listened to music, their stress hormones, heart rate, respiration rate and energy expenditure all decreased. Premature infants listening to music had increased catch-up growth and shorter hospital stays too. It is thought that the soothing sensation of music decreases the energy spent on crying and allows more for growth and development!

But what about moms? Mothers who practiced skin-to-skin contact with their babies while listening to music experienced a significant decrease in anxiety compared to moms who used skin-to-skin contact alone. Infants of these calmer moms experienced more quiet sleep, less crying, and reduced stress. This makes a lot of sense. A stressed out mother may not be very responsive to her baby’s cues which could lead to escalation of the cues and eventually crying from the infant.

Rhythmic music has also been shown to increase rhythmic movement which is positively correlated with an infant’s good mood. This makes sense too! I'm never in a bad mood when I’m dancing! Music is also used in “Music Play Therapy” to help at-risk mothers safely and positively interact with their quiet alert babies. Moms and babies can move, dance and communicate through music to provide a fabulous learning environment for both mom and baby.

To sum things up: when your baby is upset and you are looking for safe, effective ways to help soothe your baby – soft, rhythmic music can be another option for you. Alternatively, when your baby is happy, you can use music to help your baby learn and have fun. Rock on!

Next time: We introduce a new series!


Cevasco, AM. “The effects of mothers' singing on full-term and preterm infants and maternal emotional responses.” J Music Ther. 2008 Fall;45(3):273-306.
Kaminski, J, Hall, W. “The effect of soothing music on neonatal behavioral states in the hospital newborn nursery.” Neonatal Netw. 1996 Feb;15(1):45-5.
Keith, DR, Russel, K, Weaver, BS. “The effects of music listening on inconsolable crying in premature infants.” J Music Ther. 2009 Fall; 46(3): 191-203.
Lai, HL, et al. “Randomized controlled trial of music during kangaroo care on maternal state anxiety and preterm infants’ responses.” Int J Nurs Stud. 2006 Feb;43(2):139-46.
Lubetzky R, et al. “Effect of music by Mozart on energy expenditure in growing preterm infants.” Pediatrics. 2010 Jan;125(1):e24-8. Epub 2009 Dec 7.
Stumptner, K, Thomsen, C. “MusicPlayTherapy—a parent-child psychotherapy for children 0-4 years old.” Prax Kinderpsychol Kinderpsychiatr. 2005 Oct;54(8):684-99.
Zentner, M, Erola, T. “Rhythmic engagement with music in infancy.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Mar 30;107(13):5768-73.


  1. Singing soothes our son! We've learned some great songs from a local music appreciation class. Another good source is "Sound Check" on!

  2. I'm a mother of twins and a board certified music therapist. I use music daily to help all of us make it through the sometimes long stretch of the afternoon. Thank you for sharing information about the value of music!

  3. I learned Humming to my son soothes him and puts him to sleep very well. Also any kind of music thats interesting will catch his attention. Music is a good option