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Music therapy for Premature Babies

by - Dr. T V Sairam

A tiny, premature baby is lying in the neonatal ward. The incubator’s heat is substituting her mother’s hugs. The plastic tubes, pumping in the nutrients substitute her mother’s breasts.

Every time she breathes, there is a struggle for life. All around her is the sign of human distress; the monitors attached to all other infants in the hall beep now and then - as and when crisis mounts. The nurses, doctors and parents rush in and out helter-skelter. The peace and tranquility of her mother's wombs is substituted by the mechanical noise that hisses through the respirators.

This is the typical ambience of a baby born pre-maturely. As all the babies are quite sensitive to sound, premature babies are no exception. All these sounds affect them and make them toss up affecting their peaceful sleep, which is as essential as oxygen to them.

In the midst of this chaos and confusion, a harpist enters the ward silently and starts playing a lullaby softly. And that makes the difference!

After a few moments, the monitors steady, as the infants seem to breathe more easily. Their heartrates too become steady, and they are able to rest. Some of them even start sleeping… This is a typical music therapy session, witnessed in many a hospital.

The impact of lullaby music on premature babies in intensive care units has been scientifically studied in the Center for Music Research, Florida State University, Tallahassee, USA. The benefits of lullaby singing and multimodal stimulation on premature infants in neonatal intensive care has thus been tested. 40 infants in a Level III Newborn Intermediate Care Unit were divided into two groups of 20, pair matched on the basis of gender, birthweight, gestational age at birth and severity of medical complications. The babies were all (a) corrected gestational age more than 32 weeks; (b) age since birth more than 10 days; and (c) weight more than 1700 g, and all of the babies had been referred for developmental stimulation by the medical staff.

The subjects received reciprocal, multimodal (ATVV) stimulation paired with line singing of Brahms' Lullaby - provided for 15-30 minutes, one or two times per week from referral to discharge. The results confirmed that playing a music lullaby can have a perceivable therapeutic effect on premature babies in a neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU). . Music for the “Preemies”

According to Dr Charles Anderson, Director of Neonatal Intensive Care at Caritas St Elizabeth Medical Centre, lot of softly resonating bells and whistles coupled with an environment which is dark and quiet can be helpful in stimulating the preemies to go to sleep. Once they are relaxed, they are able to tolerate the touch, without becoming stressed.

According to Dr Joanne Loewy, the human foetus hears its mother’s heart beats 26 million times before becoming a fully-formed human baby!

"In the womb,” says Slavka Viragova, the doctor in charge of the Kosica-Saca hospital in eastern Slovakia, “the baby listens to her mother's heart beat, which represents a source of protection and good feelings," The idea here is therefore to enable the premature baby listen to music so she can recall her mother during the period immediately after the birth when she is not with her.

For this, Loewy recommends a Geto box, which is really a drum without a mallet and which creates the desired rhythm. However, it has to be carefully timed, and played to match the meter of the respiratory rhythm of the infant.

Live music is preferred by many therapists as it may become necessary to react “in the moment” and to change to the evolving needs of the client immediately. However, there is no harm in using recorded music for short duration for a very specific goal in a NICU.

It has been observed that In general, music therapy helps a baby to gain weight, get rid of stress and handle pain better. It also helps her to go to sleep which guarantees her health and well-being.


Dr T V Sairam, A serving bureaucrat and a writer, is from F/48B, Hari Nagar New Delhi 110064. For any doubts you can contact him at - tvsairam @ gmail. com