Researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center's Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine conducted the study, which included 272 premature babies 32 weeks gestation or older in 11 mid-Atlantic NICUs. They examined the effects of three types of music: a lullaby selected and sung by the baby's parents; an "ocean disc," a round instrument, invented by the Remo drum company, that mimics the sounds of the womb; and a gato box, a drum-like instrument used to simulate two-tone heartbeat rhythms. The two instruments were played live by certified music therapists, who matched their music to the babies' breathing and heart rhythms.
The researchers found that the gato box, the Remo ocean disc, and singing all slowed a baby's heart rate, although singing was the most effective. Singing also increased the number of times babies stayed quietly alert, and sucking behavior improved most with the gato box, while the ocean disc enhanced sleep. The music therapy also lowered the parents' stress, says Joanne Loewy, the study's lead author, director of the Armstrong center, and co-editor of the journal Music and Medicine.
"There's just something about music — particularly live music — that excites and activates the body," says Loewy, whose work is part of a growing movement of music therapists and psychologists who are investigating the use of music in medicine to help patients dealing with pain, depression and possibly even Alzheimer's disease. "Music very much has a way of enhancing the quality of life and can, besides, promote recovery."