Music to Their Ears: How Music Therapy Benefits Premature Babies in the NICU
Happy? Sad? Angry? Music often brings about many different types of reactions from babies to adults. For premature babies, music therapy has been beneficial in helping to reduce stress and pain, which is often linked to medical treatment in the neonatal intensive unit (NICU).
What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is a music intervention commonly implemented by music therapists or credentialed professions to help support cognitive, physical, psychological, and social needs. There are two types of music therapy often used with premature babies:
Recorded music is prerecorded music and sounds that can be played back. For example, music played through a stereo or songs played through a cellphone.
Live music is music or sounds made the moment they are sung or played. For example, lullabies sung by parents or playing an instrument is popular.
How Music Therapy Benefits Premature Babies
Studies on preterm infants in the NICU who are provided music therapy have commonly experienced benefits in the following areas:
Music therapy intervention may help support the development of sensory skills. Parents hold and sing to their baby. This provides parents and premature babies bonding time with opportunities for skin-to-skin contact. This contact helps to regulate baby’s breathing and heart rate. Pay attention to baby’s cues to ensure baby does not receive too much sensory input.
Baby’s feeding behavior may improve with music as well. In a study about the effects of music therapy, preemies who received 60 minutes of recorded vocal music in the NICU were able to consume more than babies who received only routine auditory stimulation. This increase in feeding resulted in an improvement in baby’s average daily weight.
Music therapy may also help preemies build a better stimulation tolerance for noise. It may allow babies to de-stress and block out noise created by equipment and alarm sounds in the NICU.
As a result of music therapy, babies and their parents may have better communication skills with each other. This may occur because music helps to soothe premature babies and their parents. Stress has been found to be alleviated with the use of song of kin, breathing sounds, and live rhythm. Music intervention has helped create bonding time that builds physical attachment and results in positive involvement.
In some instances, exposure to music therapy has shown to improve the cognitive abilities in premature infants later in life. Music helps baby increase their attention span and can even help some self-regulate (ability to control emotions or behaviors). Live music and parent-selected melodies improve quiet alert time.
With improvement in sensory, communication, and cognitive functions, some premature babies exposed to music therapy have shown a decrease in stress and pain level, including improved weight gain. This has also led to healthier babies who tend to have more normalized breathing and sleeping patterns. These premature babies are often discharged from the hospital earlier than babies who did not receive music therapy.
If you are interested in music therapy or think your baby may benefit from it, talk with your healthcare provider.