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The Power of the Lullaby

Wallis, Laura

AJN The American Journal of Nursing: July 2013 - Volume 113 - Issue 7 - p 15
doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000431902.81613.ff
In the News

Live music has therapeutic benefits for preemies.



Arecent study supports what parents have long known intuitively: music is good for babies. Although past studies have supported the use of recorded music and parental voices on neonatal units, evidence has also suggested that complex instrumentation and rhythms in recorded music can lead to overstimulation of premature infants.

As an alternative, researchers focused on parent-preferred melodies and entrained live rhythm and breath sounds. They collected data from a total of 11 hospitals over two and a half years, where music therapists offered live music interventions at premature infants’ bassinettes or incubators.

Infants not in the control group received each of three possible treatments—lullaby, gato box (a rectangular instrument that provides soft, entrained sounds, simulating heartbeats), and ocean disc (a round, drum-like instrument filled with tiny metal balls, rotated to create an effect similar to fluid sounds in the womb)—twice over two weeks, for a total of six intervention sessions. The interventions were compared with a control situation, in which the infants received no explicit aural stimulation. If no favorite or culturally significant song was identified by parents or caregivers, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” was used.

Vital signs and activity levels of infants were measured before, during, and after interventions, in addition to secondary outcomes like feeding, sleep, and caloric intake. The researchers also recorded parents’ perceptions of their own stress levels.

Overall, the specific live-music therapies helped the premature infants self-regulate and had beneficial therapeutic qualities. Live, sung lullabies had a strong effect on vital signs and helped sustain a quiet alert state. Parental stress also decreased significantly with the lullaby intervention. The gato box seemed to have positive effects on infants’ heart rates and sucking and feeding behavior; the ocean disc induced a quiet alert state and improved oxygen saturation.

The authors note that the sounds used in this study can be easily replicated by parents. Encouraging parents to identify a favorite lullaby and sing to their babies is also important; parents’ voices have been audible to their infants since 16 weeks of pregnancy, they note, and are therefore recognizable and uniquely comforting.—Laura Wallis

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Loewy J, et al. Pediatrics. 2013;131(5):902–19
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