Music has healing power for prem babies

Premature babies benefit from listening to music.Photo / Thinkstock
Premature babies benefit from listening to music.Photo / Thinkstock

Playing live music to a prematurely born baby can slow its heartbeat and make the child breathe more easily, according to a new study.

The sound of an instrument or parent singing can make a newborn sleep better and puts them in a quietly attentive state.

In some cases it also improves sucking behaviours which are important to help them feed.

The researchers found the effect was true regardless of which song was played, although the tracks had to be slowed down so that they sounded like a lullaby.

The study adds to the growing body of evidence that music can benefit newborn children.

Doctors in the US have reported that it is as effective - not to mention safer - than using sedatives before giving them heart or brain scans.

The new research was coordinated by Beth Israel Hospital in New York across 11 American hospitals.

Music therapists worked with the mothers of 272 premature babies for several sessions over two weeks using either two instruments, singing or no music.

The instruments used were a 'gato box', which is a wooden drum, and an 'ocean disc' which is a cylinder full of beads which was used to make whooshing noises.

Among the songs chosen were I heard it through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye and Pick up the Pieces by Average White Band.

Both were slowed down so they were softer on the ear. If no song was chosen then the researchers chose the nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

Joanne Loewy, the study's leader and the director of Beth Israel's Louis Armstrong Centre for Music and Medicine, said that all the instruments had a beneficial effect.

However sucking behaviour improved most with the gato box. The breathing rate slowed the most and sleeping was the best with the ocean disc.

Singing was the most effective at slowing the baby's heart rate and it also made the baby most attentive.

Dr Loewy said babies who heard songs chosen by their parents as opposed to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star also had better feeding behaviour, but the nursery rhyme did lead to more oxygenation of the blood.

In her report she said that one of the reasons the music may have been effective was that it mimicked the noises the baby heard when it was in the womb.

Among those who took part in the study was new mother Andrea Zalkin who sang the Beatles hit Eight Days a Week to her son Hudson, who was born 13 weeks early.

The music therapist working with her changed it to a slow waltz and amended the lyrics so they included the words 'Baby Hudson' and the sound 'ahh'.

Miss Zalkin said that she saw that it 'changes the way he's breathing and I'm breathing, it changes his behaviour'.

Every year in New Zealand up to 6000 babies are born before they reach full term.

The new study was published in the journal Paediatrics.

- DAILY MAIL

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