Premature babies are by definition incredibly fragile, which is why they’re placed in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) that monitor them constantly. But NICUs are noisy, bustling places, which can be stressful to preemies — who already have many other stressors impeding their development.
A recently released study from Beth Israel Medical Center set its sights on helping premature babies de-stress and develop with the help of music. The study, led by Dr. Joanne Loewy, concludes that music therapy can have a positive impact — specifically when it comes to heart rate, sleep, and nursing. Parents who sing lullabies or play instruments that mimic the sounds heard inside the womb can help reduce their child's stress. And it's live music in particular, performed by parents rather than played from a CD, that helps the most.
Dr. Loewy explains the findings of the study to Soundcheck and, with the help of Beth Israel intern Julia Summers, demonstrates some of the soothing sounds and lullabies helpful to premature babies.
Loewy, on using instruments like the Remo Ocean Disc to recreate the sound soothing of the womb:
The womb is actually quite an active soundscape between the whoosh of the uterus and the heartbeat…. We don’t even use them as drums. We use them as sounds entrained to the baby’s live vitals.
Loewy, on tailoring lullabies to parents and their premature children:
You focus on the life world of the family. You ask a father and mother. You do music therapy with them and get them calm and see what elements and what melodies have been passed down from one generation to the next. Or is it a melody from their wedding? Or is it from their church or synagogue? What’s going to be the song of kin, the holy melody?
Loewy, on the importance of using live music to help babies:
We’re living in a gadget society with iPods and iPads. You walk into any baby store and there’s a million CDs, so parents think particuraly when doctors endorse CDs, that they just throw on a CD and let the baby go to sleep. What they don’t realize is that their bodies are valuable instruments. A recording can’t change meter of respiration or heart rate.