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Lullabies Improve Preterm Babies' Health During NICU Stay: Study

Apr 15, 2013 07:11 AM EDT

Lullabies can aid a preterm infant's development in the neonatal intensive care unit, a new study has found. Researchers found that specific parts of music can help preterm babies' heart rate and breathing.

The kinds of music that helped improve a preemie's health also include live ocean disc whoosh sounds and gato box rhythms.

Preterm is defined as babies who are born before completing 37 weeks of pregnancy. These children have higher rates of cerebral palsy, sensory deficits, learning disabilities and respiratory illnesses compared with children who are born after a full term, according to WHO.

"We are learning from the literature and studies like this that premature infants do not necessarily grow best tucked away in an incubator," said Joanne Loewy, head of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

The present study from Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center found that playing certain music can positively influence the baby's health. There have been other studies in the past that have also looked at the association between music and early language acquisition.

The current study included 272 infants in 11 hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Researchers found that music provided by a certified music therapist can improve baby's heart rate and breathing, while noise can negatively affect the baby's health.

Lullabies were found to strengthen the emotional bond between parents and the baby, especially lullabies that were culturally relevant. These lullabies also helped parents cope with their baby's health issues.

"The singing is extremely important because it represents familiarity - the baby heard the mother and father's voice as early as 16 weeks plus you have melody and rhythm in song," Loewy told Reuters.

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

An estimated 15 million babies are born preterm each year, and this number is increasing, according to the World Health Organization. Also, an estimated 1.1 million babies die annually from preterm birth complications.

In the U.S., premature birth occurs in 8 to 10 percent of all pregnancies, says Medline Plus.

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