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Music Can Help Premature Babies Develop, Says New Study
April 19, 2013
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Call it musical medicine. A new study suggests that music and lullabies can help premature babies develop.

As part of the research, published in the journal Pediatrics, music therapists worked with parents to turn their favourite songs into lullabies.

For example, in a story from The New York Times, a mother sings The Beatles 'Eight Days A Week' as a lullaby to her baby - who was born 13 weeks early.

Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City led the study, which looked at 273 premature babies in 11 hospitals.

Traditional lullabies and favourite songs (slowed down to resemble lullaby) were played or sung for the babies, along with rhythm therapy such as a whooshing of the ocean or a heartbeat.

Researchers found that music helped to slow babies' breathing and heart rates, increased their oxygen intake, improved their sucking ability for feeding and helped them sleep better.

Dr. Joanne Loewy, the lead researcher, said it didn't matter whether parents or music therapists sang, or whether the babies were in incubators or held.

The music is said to have lowered stress in the parents as well.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, some premature babies require special care and spend weeks or months in hospital and are more likely to experience developmental problems.

By reducing stress through music, the thinking is, it can allow the babies to devote more energy to normal development.

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Dr. Thomas Truman, the director of neonatal and pediatric intensive care at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in Florida, told the Times that music "helps decrease their stress response" and "really devote more of their oxygen and calories to developing and growing."

This study adds to a growing body of research.

As The Times points out, "some hospitals find music as effective as, and safer than, sedating infants before procedures like heart sonograms and brain monitoring."

Also, the results build on a study, published last fall in the Journal of Neonatal Nursing, which showed that premature babies exposed to music had shorter hospital stays.

Exactly why music seems to have this effect isn't clear.

But researcher Helen Shoemark of the Murdoch Children's Reesarch Institute in Melbourne says it could be that music is "meaningful noise" as opposed to the usual noise of a hospital.

Dr. Manoj Kumar of Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton acknowledges the benefits of music for babies.

But she says it's not entirely clear if music actually leads to clinical improvements, such as removing oxygen or feeding tubes sooner.

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