Why Music Is Important In The The NICU

premature baby

Bring Music Therapy To NICU

In an earlier blog post, we looked at the physical effects of music on premature babies [Link to blog post]. Studies show that live music in particular — including lullabies sung by parents and carers — has a significant impact on heart rate, sleep quality, and feeding among babies born before full term. And all of these physical factors contribute positively to the growth and maturation of a newborn.

You can sing and play music to your baby in hospital to help them in their early days. But we believe that more Neonatal Intensive Care Units could offer music therapy as a valuable part of their treatment plan for newborns, too.

Premature babies don’t only need clinical care: they also need stimulation and stress-soothing to enable them to learn how to calm themselves down, connect with the people close to them, and to help them feel good in those strange days of brights lights and changing faces.

Music involves families and aids medical procedures

In 2017, Mark Ettenburger published a research paper which looked at the critical importance of involving families intimately in the care of their premature babies while they’re still in hospital. Such family inclusion improves the bonding that takes place between parents and infant in spite of the limitations of the hospital setting, and makes parents feel more confident when they do take their child home.

Ettenburger used the music therapy programme at the NICU in a Columbian hospital to support his argument that musical interventions provide a means for important early bonding and communication between parents and premature babies. The programme offers an experience beyond the usual day-to-day of a busy hospital.

Earlier, in 2014, Kimberley Allen also suggested that music therapy within an NICU could help to balance the negative psychological impact of being in a stressful, highly medicalised environment in early life.

unhappy new baby

Towards Music Therapy as a routine aspect of premature care

As well as noting the numerous physiological and developmental benefits of music for premature babies, Allen analysed material which shows that the use of music therapy during stressful or painful events or procedures in hospital can improve heart rate and oxygen saturation.

This has implications for infant health beyond the immediate procedure in which music was used — a baby whose heart rate is stable and who is breathing steadily will have an easier time recovering from such events.

So, the evidence points to music therapy being an extremely valuable addition to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It bonds families, calms anxious parents as well as babies, and helps infants through challenging procedures during their critical care.

We’d like to see more hospitals taking note of the increasing body of research to support music for premature babies. Just as skin-to-skin contact has now earned the respect it deserves within medical settings, we hope that songs, lullabies and instruments will become commonplace on neonatal wards.

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Our Expert

Jane Cooke - Baby Sleep Expert