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Why Are Lullabies a Thing? Music Therapy with Your Baby

If you're like me, you probably use music therapeutically throughout your normal day. I love listening to accoustic music as I walk to my bus stop and I usually end the day with music that will help me calm down, check out from work, and make the transition to back to home-life. The music we listen to can have an effect on our mood, motivate us for a workout, or sometimes even define our personality, so it's no surprise that babies love listening to music too. Music engages a lot of senses at the same time which means there are LOTS of ways to use music therapeutically with your baby to reinforce emerging developmental skills.

Lullabies are usually used to help babies fall asleep, but they can also help babies calm down when they're upset, and even promote calm, wakeful states. Since babies don't have a lot of skills, singing lullabies can be unique way to interact and bond with them. It's one of the only age-appropriate activities that parents and babies can do together. Research also shows that babies respond best when they hear their mothers sing. So don't be shy, parents, sing away! Sing your favorite songs. Sing songs in your native language. Sing songs with hand motions. While you're singing, be on the lookout for signs that your baby has had enough. Babies under 12 months old can usually tolerate about 30 minutes of music at a time, so be sure to take long breaks.

Since babies start working on developing language almost right away, there are a couple tricks that music therapists use to help reinforce this emerging skill. Instead of singing all the words of a song, sing the melody on one vowel sound. For example, sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," but just making an "ah" or an "oo" sound the whole time. It feels kinda silly, but babies love it! To encourage your baby to sing along, try leaving off the last word of a phrase. Going back to my "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" example, the last phrase would be, "how I wonder what you (long pause) are." Watch the video to see me demonstrate :) Then check out this awesome music therapist to see more examples!

Rattles and shakers are a great way to motivate babies to develop and strengthen their muscles, and can even help teach cause-and-effect. Some babies will need help to hold shakers at first, but always show your baby the instrument and give them a chance to reach for it on their own. The Raffi song, "I'm in the Mood" is one of my favorite shaker songs.

Clearly there are lots of ways parents and babies can use music therapeutically at home, so you might be asking yourself why you need music therapy. Sometimes babies who are born prematurely, who've spent time in a NICU, or who have a disability need extra help to reach developmental milestones. But even typically-developing babies can benefit from music therapy. Music therapists are trained to assess where your baby is at developmentally and can create a plan to work with babies at their pace to achieve developmental milestones. Music therapists are even trained to research or makeup new activities to work on specific goals. (I can't even begin to tell you all the silly, adorable songs I've made up for my littlest clients.)

If you're in the Seattle area think you and your baby would benefit from music therapy, check out our services to set up a free consultation. Otherwise, go to the American Music Therapy Association website to find a music therapist near you.

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