While it’s long been suspected that talking to your baby while in the womb, and even playing classical music, can make your child smarter, new research is showing that moms who sing to their preemies can actually affect how well they breathe and rest.
In information culled from more than 12 clinical trials, it was determined that premature babies being cared for in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) had their air intake and outflow stabilize when they were allowed to hear the sound of their own mothers’ voices singing to them.
And although live performances worked best, researchers found that even recordings of a parent’s voice made for oxygen improvement.
An added benefit was that by modulating volume, parents could aid in their babies getting a better night’s sleep.
Lucja Bieleninik, a Ph.D. researcher at Norway’s Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Center, noted that “… infants can recognize the mother’s voice at birth. This connection is [even more] important to foster in premature infants, whose last months of gestation are instead spent outside of the womb.””
If you think about this on a more primal level, it makes total sense: after all, our heartbeats mirror that of a drum, and unborn babies are exposed to all kinds of sounds while still inside their mothers’ wombs.
New York’s Mount Sinai Health System Director at the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine Joanne Loewy says that music therapy for newborns mirrors the rhythms and tones of music, using the same principles of steady beats and familiar sounds that we all love as adults as well.
If an actual parent is unavailable, Loewy discovered that the simple sound of a heartbeat or machines that can emulate “white noise,” like the sound of ocean waves, make for a reasonable substitute. And as most of us grownups know, music is great for bringing down stress, something that Loewy determined worked for babies just as well.
Also not likely to surprise anybody is the finding that moms also benefitted from soothing their babies with song.
Across the board, Bieleninik and her research team found this to be the case in the mothers who they studied. This could be a particularly important piece of information for the parents of preemies, who are naturally more stressed than typical parents, due to the circumstances their newborns are in.
And that’s a win/win, according to Bieleninik: “By incorporating parents as active partners in music therapy, we can positively affect both preterm infants and their parents,” she said.
The Norwegian expert’s study explored the results of 1,000 premature babies involved in 14 clinical trials. In that research, a direct correlation to how quickly babies were released from the NICU was discovered as it related to how much their parents sang to them: preemies who’d been serenaded were allowed to go home three days earlier than those who were not.
Both doctors agree that what type of music newborns are exposed to is of paramount importance, with Bieleninik noting that ” … inappropriate sensory stimulation can actually do them harm.”
What to do if you’re expecting a baby and have been told it may be born prematurely? Experts suggest that you check with your hospital to see if its NICU is offering a music therapy program for preemies.
Then once you return home, do what mothers have been doing for millennia with their infants: sing while cuddling and rocking your baby, and make contact with them by kissing them, holding their hand, or rubbing their arm gently. And feel free to pass on traditions, because the doctors believe that songs your parents sung to you will come from your heart and be passed on once again.
But in case you don’t know – or can’t remember – any children’s lullabies, don’t fret. Bieleninik says that any calming song you like could work, so try some James Taylor or other classic folksy tunes.
” … a very simple, nurturing use of the voice serves as the best medicine between preterm infant and parent at this vulnerable time, ” Bieleninik said.
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