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The Trick to Soothing Your Crying Baby Starts During Pregnancy

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

During my first pregnancy, I was captivated with learning about every aspect of pregnancy and my child’s growth in utero.

I learned about the size of my baby in relation to foods: this week the baby is the size of a kidney bean! This week it’s a kumquat! Now a lime! Whee!

When she was about the size of an avocado (16 weeks), I learned that she was beginning to be able to hear sounds. I had read that babies recognize not only voices, but music as well. I also learned that babies could recognize music played to them in utero after they were born. It got me thinking that it could potentially make her feel incredibly safe to have a familiar song once she was out in the big, scary world.

I decided to choose one single song to focus on, and thought long and hard about what I wanted to play for her on repeat. Obviously she’d be hearing more sounds than just the one song while in my belly, but I decided that making a single song a priority would make it really special to her and to me. Mostly I figured the song had to be one that I wouldn’t get sick of. If my experiment worked, I thought, we might end up listening to this song hundreds, if not thousands of times over the course of my pregnancy, then into her babyhood, and probably all through our lives.

I wasn’t set on it being a song for children, but when a trusted friend with two young daughters gave me a CD of her kids’ favorite songs, I took a listen. As soon as I heard Elizabeth Mitchell’s rendition of “Three Little Birds,” I knew I had found the one. The introduction was very distinct, the song wasn’t annoying, and it was definitely something I could listen to over and over again without going completely bonkers.

Since I didn’t want to overplay the song before she was even born, I didn’t immediately listen to the song in excess. There were days (weeks even) that I wouldn’t play the song. Other days I’d throw it on repeat for 20 minutes while I did some writing.

It was incredible: she’d throw a fit, I’d turn on the song, and she’d instantly quiet down and listen intently. It was magic.
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Now, I didn’t go all out putting headphones on my belly or blasting it on high. I also made sure to listen to my own music, which was anything from Rufus Wainwright to Pink Floyd to Iron & Wine.

As my due date drew nearer, I decided to kick it up a notch. In my final weeks of pregnancy, I was definitely listening to “Three Little Birds” a little more often than I’d care to admit. Occasionally I’d even play Bob Marley’s original.

And then the moment came. She was born. We were still in the hospital the first time we played her the song, but in her first few sleepy days she wasn’t crying enough for us to see if the song was soothing or even recognizable to her.

It didn’t take long to see if my experiment worked.

My daughter was, as some say, a “spirited” baby. She had some issues with reflux in the first few months of her life and she was a screamer. She was difficult to soothe. She needed lots of holding, carrying, and swaying.

I gave myself a huge high five when I realized how crucial the song was to my baby. It was incredible: she’d throw a fit, I’d check to make sure she was fed, her diaper changed, and not too tired, and if all of those qualified, I’d turn on the song and she’d instantly quiet down and listen intently. It was magic.

As soon as the song was over, the crying fits would begin again and so I’d have to throw the song on repeat, sometimes for hours on end. And the magic song didn’t only work at home, either. She hated car rides and loved to scream through those as well unless we were playing her song.

I assumed that the magic of “Three Little Birds” would only captivate my daughter for a few months tops, but that just wasn’t the case. Even at 1 year old, we were listening to it over, and over, and over. And over. Yes, we were entirely sick of it at this point, but it was one of the only songs that quieted her (aside from techno music, but that’s another story entirely), and we preferred the sweet voice of Elizabeth Mitchell to the harrowing cries of our daughter.

Finally around her second birthday, we realized that the enchantment had finally worn off. We were so relieved.

But then, when I hit the 16-week mark in my second pregnancy, I sat down once again and deliberately chose a song for my baby. I considered Mitchell’s song but knew I wouldn’t be able to listen to it for another two years, so I chose a sweet lullaby by Renee & Jeremy entitled “It’s a Big World,” and the song captured her attention just as “Three Little Birds” did for my first daughter.

This afternoon I decided to play my eldest daughter the song that once saved our sanity. I asked her if she remembered the song (which we haven’t played in at least two years now). A small grin emerged on her little face, and she started singing along. I wept. I wept for her beautiful voice. I wept for the days that I wished away when she was so very sweet and small, and I wept for the beauty of the song that will forever hold a special place in our hearts.

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