"My Baby Made Me Do It!"
It feels only natural to murmur a soft lullaby as we walk and sway with our babies. Something about an infant in arms elicits song in even the most musically challenged. "There's been a lot of research on music and babies," says Hart. "We know they love it, are soothed and comforted by it, and that they generally prefer a simple melody to something overwhelming like a full orchestra or hard rock."
There's also something about trying to calm an infant that brings back what calmed you when you were small. Perhaps singing mimics the rhythmic sounds of a beating heart and whooshing blood heard in utero. "All we know for sure is that babies need a rich sensory diet -- a wide array of input to all their senses," says Roni Cohen Leiderman, Ph.D., associate dean at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Ready to fight
Far deeper than any amusingly quirky behavior lies the fierce protectiveness that our children evoke in us. I can vividly recall the night I stood in a neonatal intensive care unit, blocking a six-foot-tall pediatric resident who'd been ordered to learn how to insert an intravenous line using my newborn's tiny veins. The image that comes to mind is that of a lioness standing over her cub. The ferocity of my protectiveness took me by surprise.
The same instinct positions us between our children and any real or perceived danger (traffic, strangers, relatives with colds), and motivates us to spend hours covering electric outlets with plastic doohickeys and safety latching every drawer in the house.
In this realm more than any other, something about a baby induces truly primal behavior. Certain aspects of a baby's appearance -- large eyes, large head relative to the rest of the body, button nose, receding chin -- trigger both an instant attraction and a sense of protectiveness. It's an instinct that both advertisers and wildlife crusaders exploit to catch our attention and melt our hearts.
It's also what might lead an adult to risk her own safety for that of a baby or small child. On a less dramatic scale, it ensures that parents get up for 3 a.m. feedings despite their mind-numbing need for sleep. Evolutionary biologists point out that an otherwise helpless human baby depends on such self-sacrificing behavior for survival. To we parents who are doing it, though, self-sacrifice is hardly the issue: For us, tending to our babies in the wee hours, babbling to them, singing, and swaying are all expressions of the most important parental instinct: love.