It seems that singing a tune to your new infant may be more calming than a fireside chat — even if that chat is in baby talk.

A recent study published in Infancy has found that a recording of someone singing keeps a baby from showing signs of distress twice as long as a recording of someone talking does. Amazingly, the effect proved true even when the song was sung in an entirely foreign language than that of the mother — in this case, Turkish.

"Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants' attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby's emotional self-control," said senior author Professor Isabelle Peretz, a professor of psychology at the University of Montreal and co-director of the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS), in a statement . "Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity."

The authors recruited thirty infants between the age of 7 to 10 months and their mothers to take part in their study. Waiting until the babies became relatively calm, they asked the mothers to step out of view (cleverly moving behind their children), while they subjected the babies to a recording of a turkish singer, a recording of normal adult speech, and “infant-directed” (baby talk) speech.

"The performer sang Turkish play songs, not Western ones. This is an important point as studies have shown that the songs we sing to infants have a specific range of tones and rhythms," elaborated lead author Mariève Corbeil, a doctoral student at BRAMS. "Every parent knows it's not much use singing Rihanna to their baby!" Finally, they waited to see how long it would take the infants to begin showing their “cry face”.

"When listening to the Turkish song, babies remained calm for an average duration of approximately nine minutes. For speech, it was roughly only half as long, regardless of whether it was baby-talk or not," Corbeil said. "The lack of significant distinction between the two types of speech came as a surprise to us," A similar experiment using a singer in the infants’ native lanuage (French) found a similar effect.

"While infants listened to the Turkish play song for roughly nine minutes before meeting the cry-face criterion, it was six minutes for the play song in French, a language with which they were very familiar," Corbeil explained. "These findings speak to the intrinsic importance of music, and of nursery rhymes in particular, which appeal to our desire for simplicity, and repetition."

Aside from confirming the age-old utility of a lullaby, Peretz and her team believes their research may point the way to an teachable child-rearing strategy for new moms that may be having difficulties. “Although infant distress signals typically prompt parental comforting interventions, they induce frustration and anger in some at-risk parents, leading to insensitive responding and, in the worst cases, to infant neglect or abuse," Peretz said. "At-risk parents within the purview of social service agencies could be encouraged to play vocal music to infants and, better still, to sing to them."

Source: Corbeil M, Trehub S, Peretz I. Singing Delays the Onset of Infant Distress. Infancy. 2015.