Music Therapy can Actually Help Premature Babies, Not Just Adults

Music therapy is often used to treat adults and children, but its benefits extend to the youngest of young– premature babies.

You may think of music therapy as a mental health treatment for fully cognisant adults and children. However, it's good for cognitive and physical abilities, not just mental health. You may be especially surprised to hear that music therapy can help premature babies with their development.

This article will cover:

  • What is music therapy?
  • Why do premature babies need music therapy?
  • How does music therapy help premature babies?
  • How do I use music therapy with an infant?

What is music therapy?

If you’re looking for information about music therapy, you are in the right place. Incadence has plenty of articles about music therapy– what it is, how it helps mental and physical health, and even how to become a music therapist.

To put it simply, music therapy is the clinical use of music to accomplish individualized goals. These goals can vary from lowering stress, improving mood, and self regulation. It can be used to increase joy, lower pain, improve memory, and even reduce blood pressure.

A music therapy session can involve singing, creating music, listening to music, or moving to a beat. A wide variety of people can use music therapy to accomplish their goals including:

  • Military veterans or active-duty members of the military
  • People on the autism spectrum
  • Victims of trauma
  • Victims in crisis
  • Individuals with Alzheimers
  • People who are physically or mentally ill
  • And as of recently: premature babies
Newborn baby lying on a pink blanket.
Music therapy can benefit premature babies develop skills that they weren’t able to develop in the womb.

Why would premature babies need music therapy?

The third trimester of pregnancy is when babies get prepared for the stimulation in the world. They learn to recognize their mother’s voice and separate it from other sounds. They also start reacting to light when shone on the womb. Babies during the third trimester start to experience sensations like pain and pleasure. Being born premature ruins this entire process.

To further ruin the process of auditory and pain development, being in the NICU is not a relaxing experience (for anyone involved). All of the noise can overstimulate a premature baby, worsening blood pressure, dysregulating breathing patterns, and making bonding with parents and adults challenging.

Baby sits on an adult's lap and presses keys on a piano.
Premature babies will have overall improved health with music therapy.

How does music therapy benefit premature babies?

Because music therapy has such a wide range of healing capabilities, it is no surprise that it is now being used in the NICU. A baby that is born preterm can experience a number of health issues because it wasn’t able to develop properly. The baby may have problems with heart rate, breathing, language development, digestion, blood, metabolism, and more.

However, premature babies in the NICU that receive music therapy show common improvements in sensory and communication skills, cognitive abilities, and overall health.

Sensory Skills

When parents hold their babies and sing to them, the skin to skin contact helps develop their sensory skill of touch. The contact can also help regulate breathing and heart rate. Musical therapy also helps the baby adjust to noise. Many infants struggle with the beeping and harsh sounds of the NICU, but just one hour of music played on a speaker can help the baby develop a better tolerance to noises.

Music therapy can even help with the tasting sensory skill. Preemies who receive an hour of music therapy are able to consume more than other preemies that are only exposed to the noises of the NICU. This is likely due to having lower emotions of stress. The extra appetite helps build up the body weight of the preemie, which is an absolute necessity for survival.

Communication Skills

If the music therapy treatments are completed with a parent (holding and singing to the baby), the bond between the baby and parent can be improved, as well as communication skills. Music is soothing to the premature baby and the parents, so communicating and bonding with the other is less stressful. Music therapy creates bonding time that improves physical involvement and attachment.

Cognitive Abilities

Music therapy can help premature children with learning, thinking, and memory. These will be evident once they are a bit older. Being exposed to music or music therapy at a young age helps improve attention span. It can even help the baby learn to self regulate their emotions at a young age.

Overall Health

Because premature babies exposed to music therapy have better cognitive abilities, increased appetite, and lower stress, the premature baby will have an overall improved physical health. This means their heart rate can even out, they will fuss less, have stable breathing and better sleep patterns, and they will feel calmer around people. This will help you get your baby home from the NICU earlier.

Father holding a baby while pointing at a book
Music therapy with infants can involve singing, playing a musical instrument, or playing music over a speaker.

How to incorporate music therapy with a premature baby

There are many ways to use music therapy to treat adults, adolescents, or children. It gets a bit more challenging with a baby because they can’t engage or respond in the same way. However, the healing power of music extends to all ages.

Singing to your baby is an excellent method. Especially if you’re holding them in your arms, singing to the baby can increase bonding and improve sensory skills, as mentioned before. Don’t worry too much about not being the next American Idol, so long as you can hold a tune and hold your baby, they can get the benefits.

Playing a musical instrument is also a great music therapy treatment. Or if you’re not musically inclined at all, a speaker with music (often classical) is just as good and likely more realistic for a family with a premature baby stuck in the NICU.

Those are some of the ways music therapy can benefit premature babies!

With the above information, it is clear that music therapy can be helpful to everyone, even the youngest of our society– premature babies. News stories, studies, and personal anecdotes are revealing the benefits of music therapy for premature babies, making it a wise decision for a new child.

Lydia Rosenstock
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