Serenading Your Baby

Rocking chairs, cuddly blankets, lullabies -- when it comes to babies, there are certain things that never go out of style. Or do they?

In our time-starved, tech-glutted world, are "live" lullabies -- direct from Mom or Dad to baby’s ears -- fading into oblivion? Has the recorded lullaby made singing to your baby obsolete?

One thing’s for sure: there are more bedtime-for-baby recordings to choose from than ever before. Everything from star-studded compilations to classical, rock, multicultural, and Barney-performed. Music industry executives report that sales of these soporific songs have been steadily increasing over the past several years.

And then there is the influence that books such as The Mozart Effect have had on parents who want to make sure their infants listen to the "right" kind of music to maximize their intelligence and human potential.

So how can moms or dads ever hope to compete with Wolfgang Amadeus, Nicolette Larson, or a world-renowned purple dinosaur? Maybe there is no competition! The voice of a baby’s own parent -- regardless of his or her musical prowess -- sings a distinctly sweet tune, unmatched by any musical heavyweight. And there are other benefits of "live" parental music that recorded songs or symphonies can’t deliver.

According to Dr. Lise Eliot, a neurobiologist at the Chicago Medical School, the author of What’s Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life and a mother of three, "Singing to your baby is a multisensory experience. He or she is not only hearing you, but seeing your lips move. And, it turns out, young babies are really good at lip reading, at linking movement to the sound. That’s probably one trick they use in learning to talk."

There’s also the whole emotional, interactive side, Dr. Eliot explains. "We know that the most important conditions for infant learning involve interaction. And when you sing to them, they’re happy, they’re playful, and it’s much more interesting and interactive for the baby than just listening to music in the background. Listening to, watching and being held by you as you sing to them -- all those things together make a very nurturing package. The music alone doesn’t have all that."

Many new parents agree. "I sing to my 10-month-old daughter Ella constantly," says stay-at-home dad Kevin MacCallum. "And when I do, she always smiles her two-tooth smile, and, rather than milling around or chewing on something, she’ll look directly into my eyes -- and I’ll look directly into hers. Singing has become a tool to reach her in a way that I don’t think I can with anything else. CDs tend to be background music, a distraction from our relationship rather than a strengthener."

Mom Katie Luers also feels that singing to her baby provides a unique connection. "Although I’m not particularly religious, I find myself singing hymns to my daughter," she says. "The simple rhythms and words of songs like ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘This Little Light of Mine’ or ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ are very soothing for both of us. If she’s upset and I’m singing to her, Arden nestles into my neck to feel the vibrations in my larynx, and this soothes her."

"I also like to sing rousing songs like ‘She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain’ when I’m driving and she’s stuck in her carseat and not too happy about it," Luers adds. "She quickly quiets when I sing; in fact, I have to make sure to keep it up because she’ll start to cry again as soon as my song ends.

And, parental singing to baby can even be a sharing and bonding experience for the whole family.

"My husband and I often sing together, which we certainly never did before we had a baby," Luers says. "He sings with amusing voices and funny harmonies -- a side of him I never knew. Soothing our baby together brings us closer, too."