Did you know that music can be medicinal in nature for premature babies (a.k.a. premies)? It’s pretty incredible to realize that someone so young can respond positively to music. It makes me wonder just how important music is to other aspects of human development and happiness. At any rate, there are some positive signs to indicate that using music will help premies with a range of bodily functions.

As you probably know, premature babies are often born too early to have fully formed and functioning bodies. This isn’t to say they’re missing body parts, but rather that they might have difficulty with breathing, going to the bathroom, sleeping, sucking, and even crying. While music isn’t a cure-all for the problems that could occur in premies, it does have some remarkable properties that can make a big difference.

Researchers conducted one clinical trial of 272 premature infants, all younger than 32 weeks old, each with respiratory distress syndrome, clinical sepsis, and/or SGA (small for gestational age). Over the course of two weeks, researchers intervened with some kind of musical treatment three times per week. Some babies were used as the control group, which means they didn’t receive any kind of intervention.

The results were impressive. With three live musical interventions, the babies’ heart rates slowed, they exhibited improved sucking behavior, and they had enhanced sleep patterns. At the same time, supervising the parents in singing their preferred lullabies to their children reduced parental stress and gave the parents a feeling of bonding with the child. It also helped the babies with caloric intake.

All in all, this sounds like a pretty big benefit and something for women to be aware of if they have premature babies. However, there’s one major caveat to mention, and that’s the fact that you should only use live music. Recorded music can be dangerous for the baby, risking overstimulation. Instead, by offering live elements of music like rhythm, breath, and lullabies, you can improve all kinds of physiological functions in your baby.

One more point to be aware of is that it could be dangerous to do this without supervision and assistance by a certified music therapist. These therapists know how to influence cardiac and respiratory function in a positive way without going overboard. Still, as long as you follow this technique safely, it seems to be an excellent way to help your premature baby.

Source: Loewy, J. (April 15, 2013). The Effects of Music Therapy on Vital Signs, Feeding, and Sleep in Premature Infants. In American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved May 17, 2013.