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The Rhythms of Little Miracles: Music Therapy in NICU

When newborns are born premature or seriously ill at birth, doctors may admit the babies to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). NICUs are designed with special equipment such as monitoring equipment, incubators, and breathing apparatus to help medic the babies’ immature systems.

Babies in NICU are extremely fragile and sensitive to their senses. After being in the womb for nine months, neonates are vulnerable to their new, foreign sensors of loud noises, bright lights, and physical touch (Advances in Neonatal Care, 2013).

To help babies adjust and adapt to these stressors of the critical care environment, music therapy is starting to be used in NICU. According to the National Institute of Infant and Child Medical Music Therapy (NIICMMT), musical acoustics (organized sounds and silence) can mask ambient noise to replicate the comforting auditory environment of the womb.

With the help of music, neonates experience self-regulation, deepen sleep-state, stabilize breathing and heart rates, increase oxygen saturation, enhance parent/baby bonding, re-enforce feeding/sucking rhythms and weight gain, and promote a sense of safety during painful procedures (American Academy of PediatricsJournal of Neonatal-Perinatal MedicineNICU Music Therapy).

Types of music therapy interventions include: singing (songs of kin and lullabies), playing harmonic and melodic instruments, and tonal-vocal holding (American Academy of PediatricsNICU Music Therapy). With 90 minutes/day to musical exposure, music in NICU can reduce the length of hospitalization (NIICMMT).

By affecting vital signs, music soothes and optimizes neurological stimulation and organization (furthering cognitive and language development).

Research shows the significant impact of music therapy in NICU, not just on the babies, but parents alike. Parents fear and stress may be comforted knowing that staff are conscious of and strive to minimize the stressors to the baby, aiding a speedy recovery. Parents also positively benefit from music therapy in NICU because of the ability to bond with and nurture their child while listening to music, or being the ones to sing songs.

Did you know that at a gestational age of 20 weeks, babies form the structures of their auditory systems (Advances in Neonatal Care, 2013)?

Over the years, the integration of music therapy in NICU has exploded. Here’s a recent story of how music therapy in NCIU helped a little girl defy the odds at birth.

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