Music for sleeping babies
Playing Music to help babies sleep is something I highly recommend. There's a couple of reasons. Not only is it soothing it also helps mask outside noises. It fill a bit of a ‘noise void’ so the babies aren’t going from silence; to the roar of big loud truck outside. It also becomes a cue that it’s sleep time. And we love sleep cues!
I wasn’t particularly familiar with ‘music therapy’; but I do recall when my first set of twins were in the NICU; there was a delightful music therapist in the ward; that I had full faith was soothing my babies during their not so soothing NICU experience.
As always I am the first to admit when I’m not an expert. And as much as I love listening to (and, lets be honest singing and dancing to) music; I am definitely not a music expert. So I decided to seek out someone who specialises in music therapy.
I was looking for a music therapist to interview for Little Petals. I came across Jacinta from TLC music therapy (www.tlcmusic.com.au). In a delightful twist of fate; Jacinta was actually the very music therapist who worked with my boys. This made me so happy; knowing that somehow my vague memory of a very stressful time and my passion to now help babies had somehow connected through this lovely lady. The world works in mysterious ways sometimes. So having experienced her work, I know she is the best person to explain all about Music Therapy.
What does a music therapist do?
Music therapy is a research-based allied health profession in which music is used to actively support people as they aim to improve their health, functioning and well-being. It can help people of all ages to manage their physical and mental health and enhance their quality of life.
You don’t need to be musical to take part in or benefit from music therapy. Qualified music therapists plan and provide musical experiences for their clients. Each session is tailored to the needs and goals of the client.
Music therapists are committed to supporting people of any age, ability or background. They work across the full age spectrum from newborn children through to older adults.
A Registered Music Therapist (RMT) is a music therapist who is registered with the Australian Music Therapy Association (AMTA) and who has completed a certified university course in music therapy.
Registered Music Therapists are not only skilled musicians, they are trained in understanding the effects music experiences can have on behaviours, feelings, thoughts and actions. Music therapists use their therapy training and musical ability to facilitate interactive musical experiences to help clients achieve goals. These goals may include improved communication, cognition, physical function, mood, wellbeing, and/or spiritual goals.
(Australian Music Therapy Association, www.austmta.org.au)
What do you look for in music to soothe a baby?
There are specific elements that you'll want to look for when choosing music to help your baby settle/sleep. There has been extensive research on how infants respond to music and it has found that infants have clear preferences. For sleep/settling I'd recommend music that is as regular and boring as possible - little range and little change is the term we use. Little variance in dynamics (louds and softs), little change in speed, and little change in key etc...
Infants prefer the live singing of their parents over anything else but for music you'd like to turn on at sleep time a recording may suit you better. Your recording should be with original instruments (not synthesized keyboard) as these have the most pleasing and soothing sounds. Seriously, some of the recorded lullaby music I've heard for babies is appalling quality and just not nice sounding at all. Babies notice this! They actually have much better aural processing abilities than we do. So please play them quality music. For sleeping I'd also recommend instrumental rather than vocal tracks as singing can be a bit too engaging when you'd prefer your baby to be switching off. Always play the music free field (speakers in the room) rather than headphones - the volume should be at a quiet speaking voice :) When I worked in the NICU I'd look to match the rhythm of the music to the babies breathing to encourage more regular breaths. We all tend to entrain (sync) our heart rate and breathing to music so this is something to consider when assessing music for sleeping (or exercising etc..).
Can music help a baby sleep? Should they have it on the whole time they are asleep? Do you have any recommendations for music for sleep?
Yes, music can help a baby get to sleep and then stay asleep longer by blocking external noises. If you don't need to block other noise then you could just program 10-20minutes of music to cue sleep, then turn it off. As a sleep cue, if it's used regularly, your baby will associate the music with physiological relaxation and settle quicker and more regularly with the same music. I think for certain periods in your baby's sleep routine this can be a lifesaver for parents, but if you're worried about your baby becoming too dependent then you can just use it sometimes (once established), perhaps for the trickier afternoon sleep. I recommend the original Music for Dreaming as a good example…