Music Is Medicine for Premature Babies

Music therapy shown to soothe and help premature infants

music soother radio for baby

Music soothes and comforts most of us. Now a new study has found that live music may also soothe premature babies and play a role in helping them grow and develop.

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Benefits of live music and lullabies

Kim Giuliano, MD, didn’t take part in the study but is a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Giuliano says that when these premature infants were exposed to live music they had:

  • Lower heart rates
  • Better sucking behaviors
  • Better sleep

She also notes that when parents sang lullabies to their babies they fed better and had improved sucking behavior.

What the babies were listening to

Researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City studied the effects of live music and lullabies on 272 premature infants for two years. Three different types of musical therapies, played by a music therapist on special instruments or sung by parents, were used to see how the premature babies responded.

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The instruments and lullabies were intended to simulate womb experience:

  • Heartbeat rhythms were played on a “gato box,” a rectangular wooden drum
  • Whooshing, womblike sounds were created from an “ocean disc,” a cylinder with shifting beads
  • Lullabies were favorite songs chosen and sung by parents; therapists adapted them to a more comforting tempo

The sounds from the gato box and ocean disc were found to increase a premature baby’s capacity to feed and sleep, and have a positive effect on breathing and heartbeat.

Sung lullabies have a similar effect — plus the bonus of easing stress and anxiety in the parents while providing chances to bond.

Only particular kinds of music help

Earlier studies have looked at the effects of recorded music on premature babies, but some have been over-stimulating for them, says Dr. Giuliano.

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“There are too many different melodies, sounds and rhythms and it can actually agitate a neo-natal infant,” Dr. Giuliano says. “But when the music is played live the therapists were able to coincide the music with the child’s respiratory rate and heart rate.”

Researchers say music therapy benefits premature infants—and parents should definitely be encouraged to sing to their babies.

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