Music therapy helps preemie babies thrive

August 25, 2016 by Amy Norton, Healthday Reporter

(HealthDay)—The soothing sound of mom singing may help premature newborns breathe easier, a new review finds.

The analysis, of over a dozen clinical trials, found that helped stabilize ' breathing rate during their time in the unit (NICU).

For the most part, music therapy involved mothers singing to their babies (though some studies used recordings of mom's voice). And that's key, the researchers said.

"Full-term can recognize the mother's voice at birth," explained researcher Lucja Bieleninik. "This connection is important to foster in premature infants, whose last months of gestation are instead spent outside of the womb."

Plus, when mom or dad sing, they can change their voices—getting quieter, for example, when the baby seems to be falling asleep, explained Bieleninik, a postdoctoral researcher at the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Center, in Bergen, Norway.

In essence, music therapy begins in the womb, said Joanne Loewy. She's director of the Mount Sinai Health System's Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine, in New York City.

"The first drummer you ever hear is your mother's heart," said Loewy, who wasn't involved in the review. "You hear the 'whoosh' sounds of the womb."

According to Loewy, "good music therapy" involves those same elements: a simple, predictable rhythm, periodic lulls and the familiar sound of mom's voice.

In her own research, Loewy has found that live music in the NICU—sung or played—can help stabilize preemies' heart rate and breathing, aid sleep and encourage "quiet alert" time. The live music involved either a parent singing a lullaby, a gato box that simulates the sound of a heartbeat, or an ocean disc that emulates the whooshing sounds of the womb.

What's more, parents who sang to their infants said it lowered their .

That's a pattern Bieleninik and her colleagues saw across the studies they reviewed: Mothers' stress levels declined when they sang to their preemies in the NICU.

"By incorporating parents as active partners in music therapy, we can positively affect both preterm infants and their parents," Bieleninik said.

For the study, the researchers pooled the results of 14 clinical trials involving close to 1,000 preemies. The trials differed in how music therapy was delivered, but most included moms singing in the NICU and all involved a music therapist.

Overall, the researchers found, music therapy showed a clear effect on infants' breathing rates. Babies who received music therapy were also discharged three days sooner than other NICU preemies—though the difference was not statistically significant.

Loewy, whose own study was included in the review, said the findings are important because they come from controlled of "true music therapy."

That's different from simply piping recorded music into the NICU. "This is not just any old music," she noted.

Bieleninik agreed. "Since preterm infants are neurologically immature, inappropriate sensory stimulation can actually do them harm," she said.

Formal music therapy is being offered in a growing number of NICUs in the United States and several other countries, Bieleninik said. She suggested that parents of newborn preemies ask to speak to a music therapist if one is available.

Part of the rationale behind the therapy, Loewy said, is that it's "a tool parents can take home with them."

There is, however, very little research into the long-term effects of music therapy. That's a gap that needs to be filled, Bieleninik said.

Loewy had some advice for parents who want to use music to soothe their infants: Sing a simple lullaby at bedtime, holding your baby over your heart, skin to skin.

She said the "best" song is one that has meaning for parents—because it's from their culture or because their parents sang it to them, for example.

And it doesn't have to be a traditional lullaby.

"Parents can sing their favorite songs, modifying them into a lullaby style that is gentle, quiet, and 'lulling,'" Bieleninik said.

"Often," she added, "a very simple, nurturing use of the voice serves as the best medicine between preterm infant and parent at this vulnerable time."

The study was published August 25 in the journal Pediatrics.

Explore further: Lullabies soothe preemies, parents alike

More information: Learn more about music therapy from the American Music Therapy Association.

Related Stories

Lullabies soothe preemies, parents alike

April 15, 2013
(HealthDay)—Lullabies have been used to soothe babies since time immemorial. Now, scientists say that premature infants in particular can benefit from combining this tactic with other forms of music therapy, such as simulated ...

Music demonstrated to alleviate cancer patients' symptoms

August 17, 2016
We've all heard of laughter being the best medicine, but what about music?

Study shows mother's voice improves hospitalization and feeding in preemies

February 18, 2014
Premature babies who receive an interventional therapy combining their mother's voice and a pacifier-activated music player learn to eat more efficiently and have their feeding tubes removed sooner than other preemies, according ...

Researcher exploring how to best use music to help premature infants develop

April 30, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Neonatal intensive care units are armed with ventilators and incubators to support a premature baby's early arrival into the world. But one University of Kansas researcher believes music can serve as another ...

Music therapy increases effectiveness of pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD patients

December 23, 2015
Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other chronic respiratory disorders who received music therapy in conjunction with standard rehabilitation saw an improvement in symptoms, psychological well-being ...

Singing calms baby longer than talking

October 28, 2015
In a new study from the University of Montreal, infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a song, which they didn't even know, as they did when listening to speech. "Many studies have looked at how singing and ...

Recommended for you

Breastfeeding protects infants from antibiotic-resistant bacteria

October 18, 2018
A recent study completed at the University of Helsinki investigated the amount and quality of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in breast milk and gut of mother-infant pairs. The findings have been published in the journal Nature ...

Inflammation in the womb may explain why some babies are more prone to sepsis after birth

October 9, 2018
Each year 15 million infants are born preterm and face high risks of short- and long-term complications, including sepsis, severe inflammation of the gut, and neurodevelopmental disorders. A new report in the American Journal ...

Dummies not to blame for common speech disorder in kids

October 9, 2018
New University of Sydney research shows bottles, dummies, and thumb sucking in the early years of life do not cause or worsen phonological impairment, the most common type of speech disorder in children.

'Genes are not destiny' when it comes to weight

October 9, 2018
A healthy home environment could help offset children's genetic susceptibilities to obesity, according to new research led by UCL.

Old drug could have new use helping sick premature babies

October 8, 2018
Researchers from The University of Western Australia, King Edward Memorial Hospital and Curtin University are investigating whether an old drug could be used to help very sick premature babies.

Insufficient sleep associated with risky behavior in teens

October 1, 2018
Adolescents require 8-10 hours of sleep at night for optimal health, according to sleep experts, yet more than 70 percent of high school students get less than that. Previous studies have demonstrated that insufficient sleep ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.