Can singing facilitate mother-infant bonding?

by Rebecca Israel, MS and Sabrina Drumond

August 29, 2020

  • Mothers perceived stronger bonding with their infants in the singing group than the non-singing group.

  • Fewer mothers in the singing group said that their babies cried often or suffered from infantile colic.

  • Mothers said night awakening from infant crying was a main cause of stress, which was reduced by singing a lullaby.

Singing and mother-infant bonding title

Singing and mother-infant bonding: Facilitating positive emotional and physical growth

What lullaby do you remember from your childhood? Lullabies like Baby Beluga and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star can bring back fond memories of family and comfort. As fun as it is to reminisce about a simpler time in our lives, these lullabies can be used as important tools in postnatal development. Evidence suggests that lullabies can facilitate mother-infant bonding and positive infant behaviors.

Mother-infant bonding

impact of mothers singing lullabies on bonding, newborns’ behaviour and maternal stress

Mother-infant bonding is of great importance for the development and the well-being of the baby. The aim of this Concurrent Cohort Study was to investigate the effects of mothers singing lullabies on bonding, newborns’ behavior and maternal stress.

Source: Maternal singing of lullabies during pregnancy and after birth: Effects on mother–infant bonding and on newborns’ behaviour. Concurrent Cohort Study

Researchers wanted to measure the effect of lullabies on bonding and infant behaviors. They recruited 168 women to participate in the study. Each participant was given a survey to fill out that measured mother-infant bonding and infant behaviors within the first few days of motherhood. Next, they split the sample into two groups: the singing group and the non-singing group. The singing group learned and were encouraged to sing lullabies to their infants. The non-singing group acted as the baseline for the study. After 3 months, the mothers took surveys again so researchers could measure the differences over time and between the groups.

Mother-Infant bonding was stronger in the singing group than the non-singing group after 3 months.

Postnatal Bonding was significantly greater (i.e. lower MIBS) in the singing group 3 months after birth (mean 1.28 vs 1.96; p = 0.001).

Based on the mother's survey responses, mother-infant bonding was stronger in the singing group than the non-singing group after 3 months. There was no significant difference earlier on in the study. This data suggests that it takes time for mothers to recognize the benefits of lullabies for bonding. We can only speak to their perceptions because all the data collected were self-reports.

Infant crying behavior

 Fewer mothers in the singing group said that their babies cried often or suffered from infantile colic.

In the singing cohort, the percentage of newborns defined by their mothers as “crying often” at 1 month of age were smaller in the singing cohort (18.5% vs 28.2% respectively; p < 0.0001). Finally, the proportion of babies suffering from neonatal colic was significantly higher in the concurrent cohort, both in the first month (64.7% vs 38.3% for the singing cohort; p = 0.003) and in the

Colic is often defined by the “rule of three”: crying for more than three hours per day, for more than three days per week, and for longer than three weeks in an infant who is well-fed and otherwise healthy.

American Academy of Family Physicians

Mothers in the singing group also reported significant differences in infant behavior. Specifically, fewer mothers in the singing group said that their babies cried often or suffered from infantile colic. This suggests that singing a lullaby also affects the infant's urge to cry. There are a number of reasons why this could happen, including a general calming sensation associated with a lullaby. Regardless, mothers are likely to be less stressed with an infant who does not cry as much.

Maternal stress

Perceived maternal stress at one month was reduced in the singing cohort in terms of ease in going back to sleep after an awakening.

Perceived maternal stress at one month was reduced in the singing cohort in terms of ease in going back to sleep after an awakening (29.6% for the singing cohort vs 36.5% for the concurrent cohort; p < 0.05).

As predicted, the analysis revealed a significant relationship between lullaby singing, crying time, and maternal stress. Maternal stress at one month was reduced in the singing group based on their perception of night awakenings. This measurement isn't as specific as we'd like, so we can only infer the strength and direction of these relationships. However, it seems safe to assume that maternal stress is dependent on the health and happiness of the infant.

Final thoughts

Without a good initial bond, children are less likely to grow up to become happy, independent, and resilient adults.

Winston & Chicot (2016)

There is no other bond like the bond between a mother and an infant. This bond is not only full of love but necessary for an infant's development. Evidence strongly suggests that the mother-infant bond is a predictor of mental and emotional growth. Infants without this bond are at greater risk for mood and personality disorders. Based on this data, singing to an infant may be an effective method of bonding and growth.

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