Music therapy (MT) is not only good but actually works for pre-term babies, according to a new meta-analysis of 14 studies conducted by Norwegian researchers. MT does so by helping pre-term babies develop sensory regulation and neurologic development.
In its recent edition, Pediatrics has featured a meta-analysis, led by Drs Christian Gold, Claire Ghetti and Lucja Bieleninik, regarding music therapy for premature infants and their parents. Although there have been several previous experiments about music therapy, this recent meta-analysis has analyzed the most meticulously planned and conducted experiments.
The three scientists have verified substantial benefits of music therapy in improving respiration rate of the infant and lowering the mother’s anxiety levels. Titled “Music Therapy for Preterm Infants and Their Parents: A Meta-analysis”, the examination was conducted in the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Center of University of Bergen owned Uni Research Ltd, in Norway.
The analysis employed the much used random effects model to handle the heterogeneous experimental data from past researches. They used 14 reliable tests from a total of 1,803 conducted works.
The study calculated a significant decrease of 3.91 heartbeats per minute, on average, caused by music therapy among the 964 participating infants. The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) tool was used to measure anxiety, and on average mothers experienced a 1.82 points decrease in anxiety levels due to the therapy.
Previous studies have established the adverse effects of maternal anxiety, chiefly a decline in both the mother’s and the infant’s health. Although depression gets more attention, acute postpartum state anxiety is much more prevalent as it’s found in 17% of new mothers while depression is found in 5.5% of new mothers.
Anxiety at this stage is linked to a decrease in the time period of breastfeeding and increases the healthcare expenses of the mother as she increases her visits to the doctor.
Psychologist Wayne Weiten writes in his book Psychology Themes and Variations that stimulation of the Sympathetic Division which increase the heart beat in infants may signal a tachycardia which can cause dizziness, difficulty in catching breath, chest pain and fatigue.
Furthermore, the increased heart beat results in an improper oxygen supply to the body. In the brain, lack of oxygen hinders the neural development of the infant. Praising the effects of music therapy, Susan Palmieri, a music therapist who worked in neonatal care at the PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, reports: “None of us have seen anything like this, it’s unheard of for the heart rate not to go up.” She was talking to The Columbia News.
Susan uses a Gato box and a guitar, and synchronizes with the beat of the baby when conducting her 10-minute music therapy. She says that babies who are born preterm and stay in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) miss out on the ambiance in the mother’s womb, like her heart beat. Such premature babies often experience a reduced language and motor skill development because of a reduced neuro-development.
Susan also reveals the additional benefit of the therapy: “It’s also great for mom because it helps give her a sense of control and power over the situation.” This directly translates to the aforementioned reduced anxiety levels in the mothers.
The authors of the music therapy study selected randomized controlled trials that compared the effects of MT with standard care or comparison therapy. That helped in not only proving their findings against a placebo but also the standard care given and other prospective care strategies under consideration.
The three authors made the recommendation that parents should be involved in the care giving process at NICU, as their voices in the music therapy were also effective. Secondly, early interactions would create the bridge for a healthy relationship.
Although there is little margin for doubt regarding the study’s validity, there is room for further findings in the field about which the research scientists admitted in their article. The core element missing from their finding is a long term observational study.
The currently reported benefits are those observed in the short term. For example, they could measure the heartbeat rates of the participating infants and see how they trend with age. Possibly, new insights and benefits of music therapy might be revealed by such studies.
The writers also hinted that by comparing the results of different music therapies, we might be able to optimize the treatment relative to different circumstances of the infant.
Music therapy has its grounds in solid psychological findings which reveal that music can alleviate pain and alter the mood to a pleasant state. The major disorders where music therapy is helpful include autism, dementia, depression, infant development and sleep quality.
The mechanism of all types of music therapy involves a certain type of neurological stimulation. However self-therapy is not recommended as not all music has a beneficial effect. In fact several types of music can leave you agitated.