Have you ever heard of a mom giving birth, then cradling her baby gently in her arms for the first time, gazing down at her little face, then belting some head-banging heavy metal anthem? Probably not.
A mom just knows in her heart that a baby will respond to soft sounds, higher tones and repetitive melodies, even if she doesn’t know that she knows it yet. Which is why it’s very likely that you spontaneously start humming Twinkle Twinkle or la-la-la-ing through a sonata to soothe your new little baby right off the bat.
And yes, la-la-la-ing is fine.
Actually it’s more than fine. Nonsense words and repetitive syllables may in fact be nature’s way of allowing you to bond with your baby, as you use the basic sounds a baby herself might use when she communicates with you.
So why does a baby find lullabies so comforting? First of all, humans are intrinsically programmed to respond to music. However a baby’s brand new hearing system—like all of its systems—isn’t quite capable of processing quick tempos and more complex rhythmic structure just yet. Lullabies fit the bill nicely. And because babies like repetition, it’s not only okay if in your tired postpartum state you can’t remember more than a few songs, it’s okay if you can only remember the first few lines of the song and sing them over and over. (Moms claim to do this with “Mockingbird” all the time!)
Lullabies also have some wonderful benefits beyond their soothing properties – singing kicks off the beginning of language development for babies and gets them understanding social cues. So don’t fear if you can’t hold a tune, you’re still doing baby some good!
And while it’s not entirely certain that classical music makes babies smarter, research does make it pretty clear that good quality sleep is essential for a baby’s ability to process and absorb information. So if a lullaby helps baby get there? Well, hooray for Brahms.