The melodious strains of an 18th century composer just might be music to the ears of premature babies, according to new research from Israel that suggests playing Mozart's music to preterm newborns slows their metabolism (energy expenditure)—helping the babies gain weight and strength.
In the study, published in the January 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics, over the course of two consecutive days, doctors either played 30 minutes of Mozart music (piping the melodious tunes into the babies' incubators) or no music to 20 preterm babies at the Tel Aviv Medical Center in Israel. Within minutes of starting the music, researchers found that, on average, babies became calmer and expended less energy. When energy expenditure is decreased, babies don't require as many calories to grow. And for preemies, say researchers, these precious extra calories can be put towards gaining weight.
Is there really a Mozart effect? Researchers point to a previous study of adults with seizures that found that compositions by Mozart, more so than other classical composers, appeared to lower seizure frequency. Compared with other famous composers, Mozart's music tends to repeat the melodic line more frequently—this more-organized musical structure may have greater resonance for the brain.
According to an ABC News/Reuters Health report on the study, researchers acknowledge that the implications of their findings for now "belong to the field of speculation." Further studies, they conclude, are "essential" to determining whether music therapy has a place in premature infants' early care. Other health experts speculate that other soothing music or a parent softly singing a lullaby may also hold a calming, metabolism-lowering benefit for preemies.