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Taylor Swift, pacifier? One family's baby-soothing trick

Courtesy of McBrayer Family

Taylor Swift meets Wynn and Ellen McBrayer. Swift's "Last Kiss" song makes Wynn stop crying every single time.

Last November, en route to another doctor’s appointment for her baby who has a rare congenital heart defect, Ellen McBrayer was eager to play Taylor Swift’s new album “Speak Now” for her husband, who loves country music.

Her 4-month-old son, Wynn, started crying in the car, and his fussiness reached a crescendo. Due to his heart condition, exertion can sink his oxygen levels so critically low that his face turns blue. If Wynn didn’t calm down, they would need to pull over.

Tending to Wynn in the backseat, McBrayer told her husband, who was driving, to listen to the song “Last Kiss.” As the ballad came on, Wynn’s sobbing suddenly stopped. The McBrayers wondered if the song had anything to do with the calming, so they did a test: They turned the song off. The crying resumed. They put the song back on. The crying ceased. It was the first of many times Wynn would listen to what would become his soothing song.

“There’s something about her voice. The song touches him,” McBrayer, from Villa Rica, Ga., says. “Any mother who has a child that is crying and finds something that soothes him, it’s a relief.”

Why do certain sounds strike the right chord to pacify a fussy baby, while others have no effect or just the opposite - they trigger a crying fit?


Courtesy of McBrayer family

The whole family got to meet Taylor Swift at a recent concert. Swift is holding Wynn McBrayer.

 

Dr. Jennifer Shu, an Atlanta-based pediatrician and co-author of “Heading Home with Your Newborn,” explains that music affects our bodies even as infants. When babies listen to a song or sound they find pleasant, it can decrease blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. It can also do the reverse.

"With slower songs, they kind of listen and pay attention and try to get their mood to match the song. Their body will pay attention to the rhythm and speed. With a fast song, they get hyped up. With a slow song, they’ll settle down,” Shu says. “Who knows, maybe [Wynn] likes the sound of her [Swift’s] voice.”

Swift called Wynn on his first birthday in June and he smiled hearing her voice over the phone. The McBrayers had thanked the country star in numerous YouTube videos, demonstrating how “Last Kiss” works every time -- in the car, after a messy feed, even after bedtime. (The McBrayers have the song programmed on their phones so they have it handy whenever Wynn cries.)

See how the Taylor Swift song "Last Kiss" gets Wynn McBrayer to stop crying. His mom says: "It works every time!"

Dr. Perri Klass, a professor of pediatrics and journalism at New York University, says that parents can establish a routine by regularly playing a song to placate their baby. “The child comes to associate that with soothing,” she says.

Babies also show preferences, Klass says, as seen in a popular YouTube video of a baby girl switching between laughing and crying to snippets of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and the University of Michigan fight song, respectively.

According to Shu, those preferences can emerge in the womb. Babies develop the ability to hear in the third trimester of pregnancy, and familiar sounds – their mother’s voice and heartbeat and white noise from rushing blood – can provide comfort once they’re born, she explains.

“Anecdotally, if you listen to a lot of certain types of music during pregnancy and play certain music later, it calms the baby down. I noticed it with my son,” says Shu, whose son enjoyed the Beatles and the vacuum cleaner as a baby. “He still likes the Beatles.”

While McBrayer didn’t listen to a lot of Taylor Swift music during her pregnancy, she’s made up for it in the past year, ever since discovering it soothed Wynn. And recently, the family got to see the songs work in person, when Swift invited them to a show.

Despite a stadium full of cheering fans, Wynn snoozed through most of the concert.

Tell us -- is there a specific song or type of music that soothes your baby?

Jasmin Aline Persch writes on health, business and technology for msnbc.com. She's also a medical student, aspiring to become a pediatrician.

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