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One out of every nine children born in the United States is born premature, according to a recent article in the New York Times.  Premature babies often need to remain in the hospital for awhile to have their breathing monitored and to be closely watched for a period of time.  Research published Monday in the journal Pediatrics found that live music benefits the development of premature babies.   Researchers found when the music is either played or sung live rather than played from a CD or radio it reduced the stress response in premature babies.  Theoretically, this allows more energy to be directed toward healthy infant development such as growing and eating.  The research was conducted in 11 hospitals, led by the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, and followed the benefits premature babies received when music therapists worked with the mother and baby.  Watch the above video from TheNewYorkTimes youtube channel to see a baby and mother working with a music therapist while in the hospital.


  • calms breathing
  • facilitates sleep
  • improves sucking
  • slows heartbeat
  • promotes the “quiet alert” state

Researchers clearly emphasize the benefits of music for babies when it is played or sung live.  This is because the music can be changed or adapted to the needs of the baby.  For example, if baby is falling asleep the music can be sung more softly.  The  field of music therapy teaches practitioners to observe baby and adapt the music being played so the baby improves one of his developmental rhythms such as sucking, breathing, or sleeping.  The therapist is trained to observe the minute changes in baby and adjust the music accordingly.  Ideally, the parent is learning to do the same.


Although several instruments may sound interesting to newborn baby, a few were used regularly by the music therapists because of their effects on vital signs.  The external musical rhythm influences one of baby’s internal rhythms. Music therapists are trained in this technique and favor a few particular instruments for their beneficial effects.  The Gato Box replicates the mother’s heartbeat while the Ocean Drum coordinates with the rise and fall of the breathing.  Singing while strumming a guitar also was effective at changing the stress response of babies.  Often parents chose a song they liked and slowed down the tempo while they sang rather than singing a traditional lullaby song.


There is one important difference between music played from a CD versus music played live.  The live music is played in response to the rhythms of the infant.  Tempos should be coordinated with the vital signs of the baby such as the rise and fall of the breathing, the movement of the eyes, or the rise and fall of the chest.  For example, the ocean drum can be tilted one direction as the chest rises and then tilted the other direction as the chest falls so the sound of the drum will be harmonious with the breathing pattern of baby.  The New York Times article states that it is not important for parents to necessarily buy these instruments, but to learn to mimic them as they observe their babies.  We suggest that the practice of playing music and singing to your baby should be embraced by every parent.  If research proves that it benefits premature babies it most likely provides the same benefits to babies carried full term.  And don’t forget, the music also calms the nervous system of the parent.

Source:  “Live Music’s Charms, Soothing Premature Hearts,” by Pam Belluck, New York Times, April 15, 2013.

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