A study published yesterday in the journal Pediatrics demonstrated that what we've always intuited about the calming power of music for newborns has physical merit. Musical intervention -- including instruments that imitate sounds they heard in the womb or having their parents sing simple, meaningful melodies -- may impart additional benefits for premature infants.
Researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center found that a two-week program of music therapy for babies in the NICU was associated with lowered heart rates, improved sleep and sucking behavior, and, for the personalized lullabies, better feeding.
Although they didn't look at whether the music therapy actually affected the infants' medical outcomes, the researchers concludes that "the informed, intentional therapeutic use of live sound and parent-preferred lullabies applied by a certiﬁed music therapist can inﬂuence cardiac and respiratory function."
Really, though, the spirit behind the study is much less clinical than all that. It starts with the recognition that the NICU is scary, and depersonalized, in ways that can be harmful to both a premature infant and its parents. Its main focus seems to be underscoring the importance of human connection, and parent-infant bonding, for families where the infant's birth, and first days, may have been overwhelmed by the medical interventions of the intensive-care unit.