Singing the Beatles to a premature infant slowed down the heartbeat and increased oxygen saturation as evidenced by neonatal NICU monitors. This is just one of the effects that a study is showing with regard to the effect of music in the field of medicine.
The research was headed by Beth Israel Medical Center located in New York City which employed the transformation of the parents’ favorite music tracks into a lullaby that they then sing to their babies. The study involved 11 hospitals. So far, the conclusion is that live music is beneficial to preemies. The study was very recently published in the journal “Pediatrics.”
The systematic two-year research aimed to evaluate the impact of very specific musical elements such as melody, timbre, and rhythm and determine their effects on the premature infant’s breathing, sleep behavior, heart rate, and alertness. A total of 272 infants were involved in the study.
The lullaby that was sung while the baby was held close was the hit song, “Eight Days a Week.” But it’s probably not the Beatles who need to be congratulated because they would not have recognized their own song sung by the mother to her premature child. The same effect was observed when music was played. The other effects seen were: calmer breathing, better and deeper sleep, more stable vital signs, and better sucking. Live music also facilitated a state of quiet alertness in the infants included in the study.
In the United States, more and more premature children have been born since 1990. Currently, one of every nine children born to American parents is premature. Studies like this contribute much to the field of knowledge on the care and management of premature infants.
How it works
Music decreases the stress response of infants. In this way, their energies are shifted to growing and development. A music researcher from Australia said that the organized nature of music is a good alternative to the overstimulating noises produced by machinery and personnel in the neonatal unit. Meaningful sounds stimulate brain development. Conversely, noise can have very damaging effects.
However, there is nothing conclusive yet about the effects of music therapy on premature babies’ responses and development. There are scientists who are still quite skeptical about the value of music therapy. A neonatologist in Canada pointed out that despite the positive calming effects on the vital signs of premature infants involved in this study and in research done previously, there is yet no clear indication that clinical improvements actually result from singing live to premature infants. The clinical improvement mentioned includes removal of oxygen support and earlier weaning from feeding tubes.
Ongoing research on music therapy
The evidence for the positive effects of music therapy is growing, and hospitals are using music therapy rather than sedation in order to promote a calm state in premature infants. Sedation is necessary in certain procedures such as brain monitoring and cardiac sonogram. And hospitals have found music therapy more effective. Premature infants who receive music therapy go home sooner. This is according to neonatologists working in a hospital not included in the study. Aside from the obvious health benefits the family saves money as well.
Photo Credit: Premature Infant with Respirator