Music Therapy Helps Premature Babies

Imagine when you were born in the 40s, 50s, 60s, or so.  You may have lived full-term for 38 to 42 weeks in the womb of mom, safe and comfortable… in a dark place, protected from bright lights and loud noise.  At that time, you were most likely born in a hospital, where you encountered bright lights, loud noise and a quick spank to trigger you to breathe.  Imagine the shock.  Now, imagine what premature babies who have not had the full-term time to develop… imagine what they are going through having to live in an intensive care unit.   

Amazingly, researchers are discovering how music therapy helps newborns, particularly premature newborns.   

Swiss music therapist, Friederike Haslbeck, provides music therapy to premature babies and their parents at neonatal care units in Bern and Zurich, Switzerland.  She has a process that she calls ‘kangarooing,” where a parent lays on a recliner with their baby on the bare chest, skin-to-skin .  Ms. Haslbeck places an instrument called a ‘monochord’ against a parent’s elbow, in order for both to feel the vibration from the monochord.   In combination with humming, the deep sound of the single-tone monochord provides a deep vibrational sound.  It replicates some of the deep sounds that a baby in the womb would generally hear, such as, digestion, the heart beating and so on. It helps the babies to calm down, which results in slower heart rate and higher oxygen blood levels, and the baby being more relaxed and comfortable.   

According to research, “noise, worry, and uncertainty” contribute to stress in babies, and so, the objective of music therapy is to relax the premature baby and its parents.  For more information, click here.

The monochord is NOT the only musical instrument to help premature babies.  Swiss neuroscientists (University of Geneva and University Hospital of Geneva) have discovered that the flute… actually, the punji, which is the Indian snake-charmer’s flute, triggered the most positive reactions over other instruments, such as, the harp and bells. It made very agitated babies immediately calm down.      

According to researcher Lara Lordier, premature babies’ brains are under-developed or immature.  As a result, most premature babies have less functional connectivity between parts of the brain, which can severely affect learning and performing cognitive tasks, as well as emotional development.  However, researchers are discovering that the use of music, which makes the babies less stressed, also helps premature babies to develop better in their sensory and cognitive functions.

Click here to learn about a project that is being funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Geneva-based Prim’Enfance Foundation, in order to test the effects of music therapy given to premature babies.


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