Mother singing to her child: benefits, fighting depression

A mother who sings to her child is a very ordinary event, which many take for granted. Why this happens and what pushes mothers to such actions is unclear, it seems that this happens on a hunch, just a woman at one moment understands that the baby needs a lullaby. This practice can be traced in many cultures. But how does the song affect the baby, why does the mother seek to sing, regardless of her vocal abilities, what effect does this action have on the woman herself? Shannon de L’Etoile received answers to exciting questions and even found a cure for postpartum depression in her mother’s singing.

Mother singing

Lullabies, children’s songs, nursery rhymes are an integral part of many cultures, and according to some reports, they are passed down from generation to generation and have existed for thousands of years. Each culture and even family has its own songs, which the mother sings in her own way, but they are united by one thing – tonality.

Shannon de L’Etoile, professor of music therapy at the music school of the University of Miami Frost, Florida, USA, decided to study this issue, which was helped by scientists of different directions and specialties.

The previous ones proved the positive influence of music on the developing brain of a young child, but this direction remains a little-studied topic. Scientists were able to prove that the child has an innate ability to process music and sounds heard, and in a rather complicated way.  

It was also possible to prove that the mother’s singing and her repertoire has her own characteristics, and this distinguishes him radically from other types of singing. It is proved that the mother’s song has a high initial height, and in the future we can note the slip between the levels of height. The mother’s song also has stable vowel sounds, a diverse amplitude that the child and others hear. Moreover, each mother has her own tonality, aimed only at her baby, and this does not depend on vocal data, education and the presence of musical hearing in the mother.

Such an important song for a child

In a study, Shannon de L’Etoile compared mother singing to other types of interactions with a child. The doctor noted: the purpose of the study was to determine the reaction and characteristics of the child’s behavior in response to live singing, which was directed at him. It was planned to compare the results with the characteristics of the reaction to other types of interaction between mother and child: reading books, fairy tales, toys.

The main goal of the study was to clarify the meaning of singing directed at children, as well as to identify behavioral reactions in children in response to this action. Shannon de L’Etoile also explored the role of singing in the meaning of becoming a bond between mother and child.

To obtain the result, more than 70 infants and their behavior were studied in response to 6 types of mother-child interaction:

  • mother performs the selected song;
  • a stranger sings the same song;
  • mother sings a song she chooses on her own;
  • book reading;
  • game with a toy;
  • mother and baby listen to recorded music.

To hold a child’s attention, singing, reading a book or playing with a toy were also effective. And in many respects the success was due to the personal presence of the mother. But the live singing of the mother attracted the attention of the child more effectively than the recorded repertoire. In many ways, the kids perceived this recording as extraneous noise.

Subsequently, the study became somewhat more complicated. Shannon de L’Etoile and her team studied exactly the mother’s singing, or rather, the song itself: intonation, tonal content, decrease or increase in frequency, and performance sensitivity.

Studies have shown that with the attention of the child, the instincts of the mother were on high alert, there was no one else around the mother and child, the whole world narrowed to the two of them. Intuitively, with a decrease in concentration, the mother adjusted the height of the song, the pace to attract the attention of the baby. Such actions took place completely on an intuitive level.

Singing and postpartum depression

Dr. Shannon de L’Etoile examined the singing of mothers with a diagnosis of postpartum depression, the goal was to study the difference in tonality, emotional fullness and reaction of the child. The data showed that the sensitivity of singing in mothers with depression was reduced. 

Dr. Shannon de L’Etoile noted: maternal postpartum depression is the reason for the lack of sensitivity and emotional expression in singing. But the child also reacted to the mother’s singing, although his pace and amplitude did not change and did not depend on the baby’s behavior and his involvement in the action. We can say that the mother’s singing was robotic.  

In the course of further studies, it was possible to establish: singing with depression in the mother has a unique two-way interaction, the benefit for both the mother and the child is clearly visible. Children receive the stimulus that they need so much, which allows them to focus their attention and get rid of unpleasant sensations. Mother, in turn, is so distracted and gradually gets rid of the negative emotions associated with depression.

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