The science behind the soothing power of lullabies

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

The other day, I overheard mum bustling about my kitchen, singing the lullaby which she sang throughout my childhood. In turn, it became a big part of my own boys' baby years.

It was the same lullaby which I sang to my eldest son when I was first alone with him in hospital and which made me cry in that wonderful, scary, hormonal, loved-up kinda way. It's the song which I continued to (badly) sing once his baby brother came along two years later.

But, now my kids are a bit older, in truth, I had almost forgotten about it…but hearing it again brought back all those raw new-mum feels.

Nope, it's not Baby Shark - though that song's probably done the rounds long enough to be considered a classic by now and it's true, kids do-do-do-dooo seem to love its catchy tune.

But the song of which I speak is, You are my Sunshine and it was this song that I must have sung at least a trillion times to my babies, in an effort to finally get them (and me) some solid rest.

Originally, penned as a love-song by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell way back in 1939, this golden-oldie has been sung by many artists, including Ray Charles, Bing Crosby and Johnny Cash and at some point drifted its way into lullaby status. And though I admit, I only ever actually knew the chorus; to keep momentum going, I would freestyle 'sunshine' for 'sausage,' 'darling' or whatever random word sprung into my sleep-deprived brain in the moment.

And though I love the words of the song, no matter how many times I sung it, it was always that last lonely line, Please don't take my sunshine away that made me cry just a little bit every single time. That heartfelt plea spoke a cruel-truth to my soul by reminding me that yes, one day I would have to let my baby go. As he grew up, he would stretch further away from me into the big wide world until eventually, I wouldn't be able to protect him.

But that was our lullaby. Meanwhile at around the same time in my life, my Hungarian friend was singing a traditional Hungarian folk song to her own babies across the other side of the world. Other mum-friends were fans of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Ten in the Bed, whereas a dad I know preferred that more modern classic, Robbie Williams' Angels.

And as parents everywhere must naturally feel, it was always a special bonding time for us and more often than not, my babies would seem soothed and eventually drift off to sleep.

But it was only recently I learnt there is actual science to back this up. A study undertaken by London's Great Ormond Street Hospital showed that yep, singing lullabies such as Twinkle, Twinkle, Hush Little Baby and Hush a Bye Baby (sometimes sung as Rock a Bye Baby) to children, do actually help calm anxiety, lower heart rate and reduce feelings of pain. And those same clever people also discovered that a live performance with facial expression, works better than simply pressing play on a recording.

My boys are no longer so little and bedtime nowadays turns to talk about school, Star Wars, Fortnite or whether or not we can order-in pizza for dinner tomorrow. But hearing our lullaby will always make me feel just a little bit nostalgic for those precious baby years and a time in my life when singing a bed time song connected me not only to the heart and souls

of my own little ones but also to the hearts of generations of mums who came before me and new-parents all around the world.