Music therapy can comfort premature babies

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Playing live music to a premature baby can slow their heartbeat and help the child breathe more easily, a study has found.


Researchers also found that the sound of instruments or a parent singing can increase sucking behaviours, which can improve feeding, and can have positive effects on a child’s sleeping patterns.

In the research, conducted by Beth Israel Hospital in New York across 11 US hospitals, music therapists worked with the mothers of 272 premature babies aged 32 weeks and under, with respiratory distress syndrome, clinical sepsis and/or were small for gestational age. They had several sessions over two weeks with two instruments, singing or no music. The instruments used were a gato box, which is a wooden drum meant to simulate the sound of a heartbeat, and an ocean disc, a cylinder full of beads supposed to mimic the fluid noises of the womb.

Among the songs chosen by parents were ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ by Marvin Gaye and ‘Pick up the Pieces’ by Average White Band.

If a song wasn’t chosen then the researchers picked the nursery rhyme ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’

Live music had a greater effect on the babies than recorded music because it can be adapted to meet the needs of the child.

The researchers found that music calmed the child down regardless of which song was played as long as it had been slowed down to sound like a lullaby. Singing to the baby was the most effective at slowing the baby’s heart rate and also made them more attentive. The research also found that when the parents sang the songs of their choice, their own stress levels reduced and this helped to create an emotional bond between the parent and child.

Songs chosen by parents showed a higher level of caloric intake, while the nursery rhyme showed increased levels of oxygenation in the brain.

The sucking behaviours improved most with the gato box, and the breathing rate was slowed the most and sleeping was the best with the ocean disc.

This study adds to the growing body of evidence that music can benefit newborn children.

Doctors in the US have reported that live music is just as effective as and safer than using sedatives before giving a baby heart or brain scans.

  • Read the full study here.

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