NICU Music Therapy

Life for your baby is very different inside your warm, calm womb; life outside is everything but calm and comforting, especially if your baby needs to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit, aka, the NICU. Maybe NICU Music therapy will help.

The NICU has a lot of stimuli—bright lights, loud noises, many voices. Creating calm in the midst of sounds and lights is where music can make a difference, especially when that music is recommended based on your baby’s needs by a professional music therapist.

Your favorite band may be Maroon Five, but they may not be the best choice to build the pathways baby’s brain needs. NICU Music therapy is new, but early research is showing it can be helpful.

Possible benefits of NICU music therapy

Several studies have shown that music delivered at a specified volume, time, and type can encourage brain development in premature babies. Still, the jury is out on whether music helps a developing baby’s heart rate, respiratory rate, and energy use. The outcomes of the research to date has shown either a positive effect or no benefit; none of the studies have shown any harms, such as stress or pain from music therapy.


Positive & Neutral Effects

Researchers have observed lower heart rates and better sleep habits in babies listening to lullabies. Music with specific rhythms also seems to help baby organize their suck and breathing. Music even lowers stress in moms when they see their baby managing pain or stress as a result. And these benefits are further enhanced when baby and mom are in low-light conditions, and baby is skin-to-skin with a parent.

Knowing this connection with their baby helps boost a parent’s confidence in holding baby while listening to specific music best for baby. Clearly, more research is needed, but the evidence to date is showing it’s worth trying, and worth continued study.

Using Music to Calm Your Preemie Baby

Ask your nurses if they use music therapy with premature babies in the NICU, and if so, can  your baby receive NICU music therapy?

Also ask how you can be involved in receiving that therapy for baby.

Watch your baby to learn when they’re more quiet, restless, hungry, or content.

Notice baby’s environment: Is it quiet, noisy, bustling? How does the activity around baby affect them?

Ask your nurses how you can practice music therapy once you take baby home.

We have a range of articles that deal with avoiding early birth, and how to care for your baby if she is preterm, visit Born Too Early (Prematurity)


Taking Care of Your Premature Baby

Premature Baby Care At Home


Heather Watson, PhD, MSN, BSRN is a nurse scientist at Johns Hopkins Health System and expert advisor to Healthy Mom&Baby.

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