Can Music Therapy Give Preemies The Strength They Need?

How The Gentle Power Of Song Supports Premature Babies’ Growth

Babyhood is a delicate time for infants and parents alike. Everything is new and overwhelming for these new little humans, but it’s all part of a natural growth process. After all, they’ve just spent nine months preparing for the rest of their lives. Some infants, however, are brought into the world before they’re ready. When that happens, babies require a little extra comfort. Here’s how music therapy helps premature babies gain strength when it counts the most.

Mother seeing premature baby for the first time
We can all agree that hospitals are not always the most relaxing places. Most of us would rather be anywhere else. Sometimes though, mommy’s tummy is just as stressful for infants living on the inside. That’s when our little babes come earlier than expected. Keep reading for more info on preemies. Image courtesy of Jonathan Borba via Pexels.

When Babies Arrive Early

Most babies don’t enter the world on their assigned due dates. Like weather people, doctors typically don’t get it quite right. Still, they can usually gauge a little one’s arrival within one or two weeks. Some babies surprise everyone with how early they show up.

Premature babies are born at 37 weeks or earlier. Because the range of prematurity is so broad, preemies are labeled by when they’re delivered. 

A baby that’s considered ‘late preterm’ will be born 34-37 weeks into pregnancy. On the other hand, a ‘very preterm’ baby gets delivered between 25 and 32 weeks of pregnancy. 

These categorizations are important because they describe how ‘at risk’ the baby is. A preemie born in the third trimester will be more equipped to handle life outside the womb than an infant born in the second. 

Symptoms associated with premature births range from mild to severe. Some include--

  • A disproportionately large head
  • Labored breathing
  • More sharpened, pronounced features than a full-term baby
  • Lack of swallowing and sucking reflexes

Depending on how early a baby is born, there may be a possibility of long term complications, like cerebral palsy or impaired learning. Those complications don’t show up until after little ones leave the hospital. 

The shorter-term complications are what’s really of interest. Suddenly being placed in a world without the proper defenses can lead to some serious stuff for the little one, like heart complications or brain bleeding. That’s why early infants, no matter how premature they are, need to spend extra time with doctors and nurses.

Doctor and nurse bringing premature infant to the NICU
Most of us would agree that it’s not ideal for parents to leave their babies in the hospital. But for premature infants, it’s the best place to be. The tiniest ones need all the help they can get, both from parents and professionals. It’s not always easy, but the extra time is well worth it! Image courtesy of Vidal Balielo Jr. via Pexels. 

Life In The NICU

Premature babies spend the first stretch of their lives in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Since many premature babies are born before they’ve developed everything needed to thrive on their own, it’s essential for them to have round-the-clock care. 

The little residents of the NICU get checked out every few hours to make sure everything’s alright. But not to worry--although premature babies are a vulnerable bunch, nurses and doctors working in the NICU are specifically trained.

Parents can expect to interact with a small army responsible for taking care of their tiny ones. Social workers, dieticians, respiratory therapists, and neonatologists are just a few members of each preemie’s treatment team.

Premature baby listening to music
There’s a reason why future parents start their children-to-be on music in the womb. Humans, no matter how big or small, respond to music. Whether it’s for pure enjoyment or used for a particular purpose, its effects are always profound. Image courtesy of Kelvin Octa via Pexels.

Music Therapy For Premature Infants

It’s no secret that music has benefits beyond appreciation and skill. Music therapy is long proven to be an excellent resource for a wide array of circumstances. It’s helped so many in treating mental illness, physiological concerns, and development. 

What can it do for premature infants?

Well, it turns out music therapy has shown to help the tiniest of babies cope with a necessary, but chaotic NICU. 

There have been numerous studies done on the efficacy of gentle sound on preemies while going through treatment. 

While premature babies need to stay in the NICU for monitoring, the environment isn’t always ideal for such delicate humans. The bright lights, loud noises, and constant poking and prodding are quite a bit for an undeveloped system to take. In fact, much of the necessary assessments taken throughout the day have somewhat of an adverse physiological effect. 

Since each system isn’t yet fully formed, consistent stimulation makes maintaining healthy vital signs a struggle. 

Even though preemies aren’t apt to take high volumes or frequencies, they respond well to soothing sounds. More and more, NICUs are using music therapy as a means of stabilizing infants. They found that controlled exposure to low-decibel music was able to stabilize vital signs during feeding times. With decreased physiological stress, babies were able to take in more nutrients and, because of that, gain enough strength to leave the NICU. Of course, the music wasn’t only stabilizing during feeding, but had a similar effect during other tests throughout the day.

The same thing happened for babies hearing their mother’s voices. They say that infants begin to recognize parental voice inside the womb. With that, it’s easy to imagine how helpful hearing those voices in the NICU might be--especially in the form of lullabies!

Infants might not have the same capacity to appreciate music as adults, but that doesn’t mean they can’t reap its benefits. Premature infants are music therapy's youngest clients to date and have already shown vast improvement. Who knows what else it can do?

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 20, 2021.

Brooke Barash
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