Parents singing to fetus and newborn…

With inspiration renewed after having my childhood piano moved into our home this weekend, I’d like to share a recent post from one of our local birth guru’s, Penny Simkin, as she talks about singing to the fetus and how it impacts families and their newborns.

Originally posted on Science & Sensibility: A research blog about healthy pregnancy, birth and beyond

People have sung to their babies forever. Every culture has lullabies and children’s songs that are passed down through the generations. New ones are written and shared and the custom goes on –a rich part of the fabric of human civilization. These songs are designed to relax babies, calm their fears, or entertain and amuse them throughout childhood. As we have learned more about the life and capabilities of the fetus, we have realized that the fetus can hear clearly for months before birth, and also can discriminate sounds and develop preferences for some sounds over others. Furthermore, at birth, newborns respond to familiar sounds by becoming calm and orienting toward the source of the sound, and even indicate their preferences for familiar voices and words over the unfamiliar.

Newborn babies prefer their parents’ and other familiar voices over those of strangers (1), and they prefer hearing a story that their mother had read frequently in utero rather than an unfamiliar story or the familiar one read by someone other than their mother (2). Fetuses hear, remember, have preferences, respond to, and discriminate among differences — in sounds, music, voices.

These exciting findings have inspired educators to advocate prenatal learning through recordings played through a mother’s abdomen (of languages, music, and other things). They have inspired birth activists and baby advocates to provide a safe enriching environment for the fetus. Advocates of prenatal bonding emphasize communication between parent and unborn child as a powerful way to strengthen the bond.

I’d like to offer my take on this phenomenon and urge everyone who works with expectant parents to tell them about some unique and heart-warming benefits of singing or reciting rhymes to their unborn babies.

I think my interest in parents singing to their babies prenatally began in the 1980s when I first read Michel Odent’s book, “Birth Reborn”(3). Odent is a French physician who has always been ahead of his time. He had a unique and original maternity care program at his hospital in Pithiviers, France. His book had a great influence on my understanding of normal birth, and the book is still worth reading today, along with all his subsequent ones. One lovely aspect of his program is particularly relevant to the topic of this blog post. The program included a weekly singing group at the hospital, attended by pregnant women, their partners, families with young babies, the midwives, and Odent himself. The group was led by an opera singer who believed singing to be important for fetuses, babies and those who care for them. Odent’s account inspired me to invite Jamie Shilling, a folk singer who had recently taken my birth class, to bring her guitar and her baby to my classes a half hour early each week and sing with the expectant parents. That went on very successfully for several class series, then the groups decided to combine and carry on in a monthly sing- along for expectant parents and new families, in a private home –Although the groups eventually disbanded, they provided many parents with opportunities to sing together and connect with their babies and each other in relaxing and peaceful surroundings. A high point during that time was when Michel Odent came to Seattle to give a conference and he agreed to come to one of our sing-alongs. See the photo of Jamie leading the group of expectant and new parents, with Michel Odent and myself participating. He taught us the song, “Little Black Cat” in French.

I couldn’t help but think during those times, how the unborn and new babies must love hearing their parents singing. Seeing the parents caressing the mother’s belly as they sang was heartwarming. That happened in the mid- 1980s, when much research on the capabilities of the unborn and newborn baby was beginning to be published. Recalling those special gatherings, I have always suggested to my students in childbirth class that they sing to their unborn babies, or play their favorite recorded music, with the thought that the baby will remember it and be soothed by it after birth.

But it was one couple, whom I served as a birth doula, who took my suggestion to another level, and showed me much more about the value of singing to the unborn baby. They were having their second child, hoping for a VBAC. When they discovered that they were having a boy, they decided to give their baby the song, “Here Comes the Sun” and sang it to him often during pregnancy. The VBAC was not possible, and as the cesarean was underway, and the baby boy, crying lustily, was raised for the parents to see, the father began belting out the baby’s song. Though the mother didn’t have a strong voice under the circumstances, she also sang. The baby turned his head, turned his face right toward his father and calmed down while his father sang. Time stopped. As I looked around the operating room, I saw tears appear on the surgical masks.

It’s a moment I’ll never forget, and it was that event that taught me the value, not only of singing prenatally, but also, singing the same song every day. Not only does the baby hear his or her parents’ voices, not only does he or she hear music, but the baby also gets to know one song very well. Familiarity adds another feature to this concept, because we know that fetuses have memory and prefer the familiar. Think for a moment about what this might have meant to our cesarean-born baby –suddenly being removed from the warmth, wetness, and dimness of the womb with its mother’s reassuring heartbeat, into the cold bright noisy operating room. The baby’s transition to extrauterine life is hectic and full of new sensations. He cries reflexively, but perhaps also out of shock and discomfort. Then he hears something familiar – voices and music and the sounds of words that he has heard many times before – something he likes. He calms down, and seeks the source of this familiar song. Everyone present is moved by this gift to the baby from his parents.

I’ve become passionate about this idea as a way to enhance bonding between parents and babies, but also as a unique and very practical measure for soothing a fussing baby or a sick baby who can’t be held or breastfed. Please join me on Thursday, for Part Two on this topic when I will continue the discussion including research evidence that supports this concept: practical suggetions for childbirth professionals to share with expectant parents; and some very endearing film clips of families singing to their babies.


1. Brazelton B. Cramer B. (1991)The Earliest Relationship: Parents, Infants, and The Drama Of Early Attachment . Da Capo Press Cambridge, MA.

2. De Casper A. 1974, as described in Klaus M, Klaus P, Kennell J. 2000. Your Amazing Newborn. Da Capo Press, Cambridge, MA.

3. Odent M. 1984, Birth Reborn. Pantheon Books: New York

Miles & Elle at the piano


{this moment}

Inspired by SouleMama
{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

Brubeck + Boogie

Papa & Elle

This happened yesterday…

This happened yesterday…

{this moment}

Inspired by SouleMama
{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

miles microscope

Whole chicken: four ways

Chicken is one of the more favored meats by all five people in this house. My nearly self proclaimed vegetarian will even consume it in various forms from time to time. The same cannot be said about steak or salmon I’m afraid. When I purchase chicken, I almost always buy it whole. While I would prefer to purchase my chickens exclusively from local farmers, I admit to most of them being of the organic free range variety from Central Market… not a terrible second. I prefer to think it’s the foodie in me that causes me to cook every last bit of my chickens, but I suppose there’s something to be said about the frugality of it all. The following suggestions are not exact recipes in the least, just a glimpse into what I like to do with my whole chickens.

Roast Chicken: Cut chicken into eight pieces (two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks, two wings) and set aside the back piece which is saved for stock. I like Eric Crowley’s video for thorough instruction on how to accomplish cutting a raw chicken. You may be interested in checking out a couple other methods for splitting the breasts as many chefs tend to take out the keel bone. Trim the fat and set aside for later use. Nestle the chicken in a roasting pan, drizzle with some olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, a couple heads of garlic cloves and thyme. Roast at 350 until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Eat some of your roast chicken for dinner with brussel sprouts and potatoes.

Chicken Stock: Place the backbone (more than one if you have them available) of the chicken into a large pot, add onions, carrots, celery, garlic, peppercorns and herbs. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 6-8 hours. Cool, strain and store. I often use many additional vegetable scraps in my stock including leeks, carrot tops, brussel sprouts, etc. Use what you have available.

Curry Tarragon Chicken Salad: Dice chicken breasts, chop a few celery stalks, gather cranberries, curried nuts (pecans, cashews, whatever you have (they don’t have to be curried)), plain yogurt, curry powder, sea salt, fresh ground pepper and tarragon. Mix up to taste.

Schmaltz: I only have so many Jewish friends out here on the West Coast. Perhaps if I lived in New York I would be more familiar with this thing called schmaltz. Either way, I have learned about the beauty that is schmaltz and you can rest assured that it will always have a happy spot in my kitchen. Take the fat you have trimmed from a few chickens, place in a pan, add sliced onions and cook until things begin to brown. Strain through a mesh strainer and store in the fridge. Spread on bread with salt or replace the fats called for in recipes with schmaltz. Now, say it out loud… “SCHMALTZ!” It’s a fun word, yeah?

Raw Chicken

Roasted Chicken

Chicken Salad Mise en Place

Chicken Salad

Schmaltz Liquid

Diggin in the sky

{A visit from Chris, a.k.a. Papa…}

When I was a kid and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up I would tell them that I wanted to be an astronomer. Sometimes they would confuse ‘astronomer’ with ‘astronaut’ and think I wanted to go to space. But my attraction has always come from that feeling of awe when one looks up into a clear, starry sky. The magnification of a telescope only increased that awe. Getting to know the various planets, constellations, comets and nebulae over the years mellowed my stupefied awe into long-lasting wonder and curiosity.

Fast forward to adulthood and, well, astronomy wasn’t what I ended up pursuing as a profession. If, however, there was a place where amateurs thrive and contribute to the discoveries alongside professionals, it is in the field of astronomy. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those amateur astronomers on the cutting edge, but my instrument can take me farther into the cosmos than Galileo was able to go.

Here in the Pacific Northwest clear skies aren’t the most expected weather, but we get our fair share. And when we do, I can be found in the driveway with my 6-inch Dobsonian telescope. It is, in no exaggerated terms, a mirror at the bottom of a cardboard tube with a small angled mirror at the top of the tube and a hole in the side for my lenses. Okay, that was slightly understated, but only very slightly, I promise. I also bring along a Nikon D90 and a tripod so I can share the cosmos with my Facebook friends and family. It has taken me a while to learn how to use the telescope and D90 in combination for decent pictures. In fact, my photos are improving with every clear sky, so I’m still coming along in terms of skill.

I have also been known to wake up a kid or two in order to share this wonder with them. They never protest and often want to stay out longer than I do. The good news I get to share with them is that this sky isn’t going anywhere anytime fast. Or to the extent that it does, it will be back tomorrow.


Jupiter's Stripes



Beer: Blackbird + Valhöll

Olympic Brewing Supplies in Bremerton, WA has been our sole source of brewing equipment for the past year. They stock most everything you need to craft beer, wine and soda in your home. They have beginner classes and tons of in house knowledge to tap into.

This winter the Olympic Peninsula welcomed a new brewing supply store, Blackbird Homebrew Supply, in Port Hadlock, WA. Stocking supplies for beer, wine, CHEESE! and mead, they have warmed my heart just a little bit. Cheese and beer supplies under one roof? Sold. Take a small jaunt across the Hood Canal Bridge and visit Blackbird Homebrew Supply. While you’re in the area, swing by Finnriver for a glass (and a few bottles) of cider, Farm’s Reach Cafe for ridiculous coffee and Chimacum Corner Farmstand for some local paraphernalia. And hey, hit the forest while you’re at it.


Friday night after dinner at Sogno di Vino we walked up to the launch of Valhöll Brewing‘s new location. An unpretentious brewery pouring eight of their own crafted beers and a small handful of other locals, they have created quite the following in their small hub of North Kitsap. With shiny new fermentation tanks catching your eye from the back room and rustic tables and doors throughout, all they need is the addition of a TV with the Sounders playing and you’ll find me bellied up to that bar for the upcoming fútbol season!

Currently open on Friday and Saturdays, you can have a seat and drink a brew or swing by to check out the new spot and get your growler filled. Show some love to our local brewers!

Dear Valhöll,
We really want growlers boasting your badass logo. Please release some soon.
Thanks kindly,

Valholl Brewing

Our days of chai…

When Chris and I first moved in together we shared a love of chai. I had been living downtown Seattle for about 6 months and purchased most of my chai from local coffee shops (Cherry Street, Caffe Migliore) not really thinking about making it at home. We lived just a block from World Spice Merchants out our back door on Western Ave. I frequented their shop for salts, indian spices and spice blends. Chris and I were out at the market picking up produce and had a couple things to pick up at World Spice. We spent an extra few minutes in their shop and noticed all the chai blends in beautiful canisters. We brought some home, steeped it with milk and were whisked away to a whole new time and place. The doors to the world of chai had officially been opened.

We spent the next handful of years perfecting our favorite cup of chai experimenting with pre-mixed blends, gathering spices to blend our own and adjusting the method by which we would steep our tea. We’re both partial to heavier black teas and always add more assam than most. After boiling over our milk entirely too many times, we now brew exclusively with water and add half + half and honey or turbinado at the end.

Now that we don’t have one block away access to World Spice, we usually drink a blend of Market Chai, Assam Breakfast and Harney & Sons holiday tea. Yes… that’s a lot of tea, but it has just the right mix for our taste.

I love this post on the World Spice blog about brewing your chai in a french press. All my birth ladies think I’m completely nuts not drinking coffee and I don’t have anything but tea to offer them when they visit. I’m inspired to go pick up a french press for our house since it will have two lives… chai and coffee.


2013: The year of food writing

I have declared 2013 my year of reading on food, including books ranging from technique to foraging. So far I have read through “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman, Brian Polcyn and Thomas Keller, “At the Kitchen Table” by local Greg Atkinson and “Making Artisan Pasta” by Aliza Greene. I am currently making my way through “Fat of the Land” by Langdon Cook.

Greg Atkinson’s writing inspires me to make the most out of all my culinary experiences from visits with friends over chips and salsa to lengthy dinners with family. Reading about his time spent collecting oysters just off Bainbridge and Solstice traditions with his family warms my heart. And his recipe for shortcakes with strawberries sure doesn’t cause any strife in this house.

I have a date planned with a local deli, Hitchcock, to ask a million questions and to source some necessary tools to begin my journey into charcuterie. I do believe pork belly confit might be the first thing that happens in my kitchen, quickly followed by pancetta and various sausages. This book is rocking my world.

My awesome mom gifted me an Atlas pasta machine for my birthday along with Aliza Greene’s “Making Artisan Pasta”. The photo of asparagus, beet, chocolate, squid ink, saffron and lemon pepper pasta makes my mouth water. To see such an array of colors all come from homemade pasta is striking. We all strive to have plates full of a rainbow of food… to do this with pasta alone is impressive. I have a hunch I’ll be making some chocolate pasta with homemade ice cream this valentine’s day.

Charcuterie        At the Kitchen Table

Making Artisan Pasta Fat of the Land