MONDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- Lullabies have been used to
soothe babies since time immemorial. Now, scientists say that
premature infants in particular can benefit from combining this
tactic with other forms of music therapy, such as simulated womb
sounds synchronized to preemies' vital signs.
Studying 272 infants in 11 hospital neonatal intensive care
units (NICUs), researchers from Beth Israel Medical Center in New
York City found that live music matched to babies' breathing and
heart rates enhanced feeding and sleeping patterns. Parent-selected
lullabies also seemed to promote bonding between parents and
babies, easing the stress of the chaotic NICU environment.
"Historically, premature infants were thought to be best off left alone in a quiet, closed incubator with no stimulation," said study author Joanne Loewy, director of Beth Israel's Louis Armstrong Center for Music & Medicine.
However, she added, "In more recent times, we're seeing that the
right kind of stimulation -- particularly live, interactive music
-- can enhance babies' neurological function and increase their
quiet-alert state. It helps them through those tough moments . . .
the more we can regulate the sound environment, the better they're
going to fare."
The study was released online April 15 in advance of publication
in the May print issue of the journal
Loewy and her colleagues examined the effects of three different
types of music therapy interventions on premature babies. The
infants were born at least 32 weeks into gestation and were small
for their gestational age or suffered from conditions including
respiratory distress and sepsis.
Three times each week for two weeks, certified music therapists
used devices called Remo ocean discs and gato boxes, which
replicated "whoosh" and heartbeat womb sounds while synchronized
with infants' breath and heart patterns. Parents or therapists also
sung the lullabies preferred by the babies' parents (called "songs
of kin"), or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" when parents had no
Compared to babies not receiving any music therapies, babies who
did showed more positive health effects such as better sleeping and
feeding patterns. Those exposed to the ocean disc sounds
experienced improved blood-oxygen levels and quiet-alert states.
Additionally, parents' perception of stress in the NICU environment
significantly decreased with the interventions, the study said.
"Many NICUs are noisy, or people put on random lullabies that are recorded," Loewy said. "What we're saying is, it's not just any old lullaby that's recorded, it's the power of the parent's voice synchronized therapeutically . . . and the other two sounds that can have a therapeutic benefit."
Dr. Joseph Awadalla, a neonatologist at Redlands Community
Hospital, in California, agreed that such therapy helps premature
infants thrive. He noted that womb-like sounds have been used in
some hospitals for at least the last 20 years to soothe and relax
"I'm aware that not all the [NICUs] do this kind of therapy," Awadalla said. "There should be no obstacle to using it -- there just needs to be an understanding from the staff that choosing it will help."
The cost of such therapy is minimal, study author Loewy said,
and depends on the region of the United States a hospital is
located. In the mid-Atlantic region, for example, certified music
therapists cost about $65 per hour, and a typical session with each
infant would last for 10 to 15 minutes, she said.
"In terms of the cost, when you're able to better regulate [a preemie's] vital signs, that's going to lead to less days in the hospital and less expense for [medications]," she added.
The American Music Therapy Association offers more information
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