By: Pooja Jaeel
In a recent two-year long study, researchers have found tangible health benefits of the simple task of singing to your newborn child.
The study took place at the Beth Israel Medical Center and followed the outcomes of introducing musical intervention to 272 premature babies in the NICU.
The types of music ranged from two-toned percussion box, a cd of oceanic sounds, to a melodic lullaby, such as the conventional “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. Each produced noticeable benefits of lowered heart rate, improved sleep, better sucking, and heightened moments of quiet alertness.
Often, the minutes of intentional music provided respite from the surrounding chaos of the NICU. As explained by music researcher at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Helen Shoemark, “Loud machinery, medical rounds coming through with 12 people, alarms on ventilators and pumps, the hiss of oxygen… Sound can be damaging. But meaningful noise is important for a baby’s brain development.”
Although each of the musical sounds produced health benefits, scientists found that singing more personal songs–with ties to family, culture, or parents’ musical preference–had the added result of increasing bonding between the child and parents. Named the “songs of kin”, these tunes act to introduce the newborn into the family. This increased bonding is especially important in the NICU where parents are usually separated from their child sometimes just minutes after birth.
In this study, the researchers insisted on using live music rather than recorded songs to nurture the child. The benefit of live music, explains Dr. Jayne Standley, professor of music therapy of Florida State University, is that “it’s in the moment and can adapt to changing conditions. If the baby appears to be falling asleep, you can sing quieter. Recorded music can’t do that.”
Just as live music provides a benefit to the baby, it provides a parallel therapeutic outcome for the parent. Showing up to the NICU to sing or play a live musical performance for their child every day gives parents a definite role in a confusing process. Andrea Zalkin is the mother of premature son Hudson. She says,“Having a premie, they are born unstable. It’s an unstable world and it’s a rollercoaster everyday.” Amid such instability the act of performing music for your child gives a sense of control and empowerment to the parents. For a little while, it shifts the responsibility of nurturing the child from the incubator to the parents. Ms. Zalkin comments, “Musical Therapy, it’s something you can do.”
Here is a video of Ms. Zalkin’s full interview.