When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.
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(Photo: 7378221@N03/Flickr)

(Photo: 7378221@N03/Flickr)

If you’re pregnant, you may want to start practicing your "Do-Re-Mi." Especially if you’re at risk of delivering early.

A new study published last month in Acta Paediatrica found that maternal song paired with skin-to-skin contact can stabilize health for pre-term infants.

"Evidence, primarily from animal studies, suggests that the functional development of the auditory system is largely influenced by environmental acoustic inputs early in life."

To determine this, researchers at the Meir Medical Center’s neonatology department in Israel worked with 86 mothers whose babies were all born at a gestational age of 36 weeks or younger (none of the babies had problems that would affect their hearing or their brain). Half an hour after these babies got a good feeding, they received 10 minutes of skin-to-skin time with their mom, and then either more skin-to-skin interaction alone or a combination of skin-to-skin plus a 20-minute lullaby performed by their mother. The sessions ended with another 10 minutes of just skin-to-skin.

The babies who were treated to both skin-to-skin contact and their mother’s singing benefited most: their heart rates became rhythmic, indicating, as the study put it, “better autonomic stability.”

The singing apparently benefited mothers too, reducing their anxiety.

The researchers think that the positive effect on the little ones might be a function of the fact that maternal singing “in a quiet room when the infant’s ear rests directly on the mother’s chest” replicates what the baby had come to know in the womb. “Sounds are transmitted through tissue,” the authors write, so it harkens back to the fetal environment, which can relax the baby.

The results imply that it might not be ideal for a prematurely born baby to spend too much time in the neonatal intensive care unit and away from its mother, due in part to the fact that the infant will be “deprived of the maternal sounds they would otherwise hear in utero.” The paper goes on to point out that, “Evidence, primarily from animal studies, suggests that the functional development of the auditory system is largely influenced by environmental acoustic inputs early in life.”

Rosie Spinks contributed reporting.

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