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Summary of Research Paper about Music Therapy & NICU

Uncategorized Oct 10, 2019

Loewy J, Stewart K, Dassler A-M, Telsey A, Homel P, Louis Armstrong T. The Effects of Music Therapy on Vital Signs, Feeding, and Sleep in Premature Infants. 2013 [cited 2019 Sep 3]; Available from:

Music is a universal phenomenon, having powerful effects on the human body, mind and spirit from before we are born until the end of our lives. Some modern research suggests that music therapy can play a vital role in the health and well-being of infants, specifically for those in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). In a study performed by Joanne Loewy, Kristen Stewart, Ann-Marie Dassler, Aimee Telsey and Peter Homet, the effect of live music was investigated to explore potential improvements in both physiological and developmental functions of infants. Some of these functions include oxygen saturation levels, heart rates and respiratory rates, activity levels, sleep, feeding behaviour, and weight gain. Because the musical elements were performed live, this allowed for a controlled environment in which the infant was less likely to experience over-stimulation from dynamics, rhythms, timbres, melodies and harmonies that may come with pre-recorded music. Music therapists are specifically trained to be aware of the sensitivities of neonates, and can apply the instinctive therapeutic skills and knowledge that these babies need during this critical time in development. Thus, Leowy et al. aimed to recreate the sounds of the womb through a series of interventions, relying on the natural rhythms of the mother’s heartbeat and patterns of her breath, as well as the sound of her voice, through live music interventions overseen by a music therapist.

One intervention involved the mother or father singing a lullaby or song of kin for the infant, thus recreating a familiar sound that the neonate would normally hear in utero. This particular method, in addition to showing improvements for the baby, also demonstrated a decrease in stress for the parents. Lullabies chosen and sung by the parents allowed for bonding between the infant and parents, resulting in improvements in the mental and emotional well-being of all family members involved. The second intervention used an Ocean Disk, a round musical instrument meant to simulate the sounds of fluid in the womb. Through entrainment to the baby’s natural breathing rhythms, the Ocean Disk induced a state of quiet alertness, as well as an increase in positive sleep patterns and improvements in both respiratory and heart rates. Similarly, a Gato Box (small rectangular instrument) was used to simulate the heart beat through its soft timbre, and induced an increased sucking behaviour in the infant, as well as relaxing the heart rate. Through entrainment, music can synchronize the body’s natural physiological rhythms to external stimuli, and this is an especially important part of our natural development in the womb. Music therapy thus can offer the unique ability to alter and improve our physiological function without the use of medication or pharmaceuticals, while adapting to the individual needs of the patient and family in care.

Music therapy can integrate the health care needs of all members of the family, through the supportive mental and emotional effects of bonding with one another, and through a therapeutic relationship with an MTA. Additionally, music therapy enhances a range of physiological functions in the brain and body. Given its multidimensional benefits, music therapy offers an attractive option as a cost-effective, powerful tool for patients of all different backgrounds, ages and medical conditions.

Thank you Naomi Frazer for this contribution.

My name is Naomi Frazer and I am a Level III student in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program at McMaster University. Music has always been a core passion of mine, and I had the privilege of taking the courses "Music Therapy" and "Music Therapy Research" under the instruction of Rachael Finnerty in my second year, introducing me to a vast array of research being done in both music therapy and music medicine. I look forward to integrating my passion for music and health care throughout my continuing studies and into the future.