Sound benefits babies

Dr Frances le Roux is a long time Fish Hoek resident whose book Music and Babies explores many links between mothers, music and the healthy development of babies.

Music, and voiceare two of the most basic and primal avenues of expression. And now, Fish Hoek doctor Frances le Roux has produced a detailed guide on how to use these inherent tools to aid your baby’s development and attune his psyche to a more harmonious life.

Dr Le Roux is a long-time Fish Hoek resident, having lived in the area since 1980. She is not new to writing, nor to taking the road less travelled.

Her research work is on the effect of music on pain, she has a Master’s degree, and her doctoral studies are focused on music and immune systems, and lung conditions.

Dr Le Roux has just launched a book, Music and Babies, which is cleanly written and accessible to all ages. The book is a fascinating exploration, and explanation, of how babies – even in utero – recognise sounds and learn the cadence of their mother’s speech patterns, and appreciate classical music.

To the point that, she says, if a French-speaking mother who is breastfeeding her child suddenly speaks Russian, the newborn will actually become unsettled.

Dr Le Roux details a wide variety of aspects of sound and backs each observation up with scientific studies, which bring to the fore the magic of the living connections created by our voices, and by our voices, in song.

She says sound can create a world as real as a field of flowers.

“Classical music can improve concentration, memory and spatial perception.

“Slower baroque music imparts a sense of stability and safety and creates a mentally stimulating environment,”

Dr Le Roux says. The reason babies respond to classical music is because it has a more complex musical structure – and it has rhythmical inconsistency which vents emotion more naturally.

“It matches the complexity of human expression and communication more effectively than other genres,” Dr Le Roux explains.

In her book she describes a myriad ways of using music – to soothe and set a rhythm before the baby is born (babies whose mothers sang to them before they were born were calmed by that song after birth) to help with the labour experience, to play to premature babies or those in ICU, to ease any possible post-natal depression; on to ways of using your voice in either speech or song to enhance your baby’s natural development, and what music to play to expand her mind.

The book may change the way you see babies, and the way you perceive the power of your role as a mom (or dad or gran).

For this, it is exciting, and a tremendous gift of limitless new experiences and it can be fun.

You don’t have to be a music fundi. Lullabies exist for good reason. And you can even make up your own songs or poems. Just, don’t under-estimate what your baby can learn, the doctor points out.

“Babies as young as three months can pick out the links between the structure of classical music and human expression,” she says.

Dr Le Roux’s personal appreciation of music started as a young girl singing in school choirs and playing the piano.

“My appreciation grows with my research work. Mischa, my grandson, now five years old, has just started piano lessons, and loves it.”

Her favourite genre, unsurprisingly, is classical music. “It is structured, and always new. It brings calm in chaos. It gives energy, and is fascinating. And, grounded in scientific research: it can contribute to biomedical and psycho-social aspects of health,” she says.

Dr Le Roux started her own private practice in Hove-To Medical Centre, in 1989.

“I love the deep south and do regular daily walks, early morning, on Fish Hoek Beach,” she says. Her love of nature is something she inherited from her father, and she is a great believer in the soothing affects of nature on our stressed psyches and bodies.

She wants mothers to start early with music and communication; even before birth, if possible. “Music, voice and song is an affectionate fabric that you weave around your unborn baby, and promises to be a gift for life.

“There is so much emotional content that your baby can absorb from your voice, and can take from good music.”

She says that music holds great value in enhancing physiotherapy treatments, and music forms part of her daily work.

“Studies suggest that purposeful music has the potential to elevate well-being and lessen depression, anxiety and stress symptoms,” she says.

“Music can induce positive affective states and coping with negative states that often happen during illness or sickness. Music can promote both psychological and physical well-being.”

But, she says, the mother’s voice is the best music, and reminds mothers that their babies have heard their voices since before they were born.

Studies show that our voices are as distinctive as fingerprints, and Dr Henry Truby , professor of Paediatrics, Linguistics and Anthropology of the University of Miami, believes that babies in utero are learning the rhythm of their mother’s speech, and that the baby moves his body in rhythm to his mother’s speech.

Dr Le Roux’s message is simple. Sing to your baby.

“Music – and voice – are powerful means of communicating love to your baby. So bring out the Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi.

“The baby will certainly be happy and will not want to miss a sound,” she says.

Music and Babies, which has an accompanying CD of lullabies, is the culmination of a year’s work, and Dr Le Roux is hoping libraries across the Peninsula will stock it. Fish Hoek library has a copy, but the book and CDs are available at adagio.frances@ absamail.co.za or on order direct from Amazon, at http://www.amazon.com/dp/148415567X