The Scientific Benefits of Lullabies
A study of preemies reveals the profound power of a parent's voice
Lullabies can help babies drift off into dreamland, but, for premature babies, there may be more to these soothing little songs than that. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, lullabies sung by a parent can do everything from calm a premature baby’s heart to improve breathing patterns and even encourage heartier eating.
All that from one little song? Yep, say researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, who tested the power of lullabies on 272 premature infants admitted to the NICU in one of 11 different US hospitals.
For two weeks, researchers encouraged parents to sing a favorite lullaby to their babies, while holding them with skin-to-skin contact, if possible. If parents didn’t have a favorite song to sing, they were instructed to sing the standby, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Babies also spent part of their day listening to a device called a gato box, which simulates heartbeat and womb sounds.
Compared to babies who didn’t take part in the live-lullaby program, the preemies who heard a parent crooning and other soothing sounds showed more positive health effects, such as better sleeping and feeding patterns, improved blood-oxygen levels and lowered heart rate (viewed as a sign of relaxation). According to CTV News, all types of soothing sounds slowed the babies’ heart rates, though singing lullabies seemed to be most effective. Singing also increased the time babies stayed quietly alert.
“Many NICUs are noisy, or people put on random lullabies that are recorded,” Joanne Loewy, director of Beth Israel’s Louis Armstrong Center for Music & Medicine tells HealthDay (via US News & World Report). “What we’re saying is, it’s not just any old lullaby that’s recorded, it’s the power of the parent’s voice… that can have a therapeutic benefit.”
Why the therapeutic benefit? “Singing,” Loewy explains to Reuters Health, “represents familiarity—the baby heard the mother and father’s voice as early as 16 weeks, plus you have melody and rhythm in song.”
Nevada mom Debbie Malcolm is now glad she warmed up her vocal chords after her son arrived five weeks early.
“I sang to my son constantly when he was in my tummy, so it just made sense that as soon as I got a chance to hold him, I sang to him,” says Malcolm. She adds, “I was just going with my ‘mom intuition’ that my little baby needed to hear me and feel me close. It’s neat to know that this might have helped him in very real ways.”
Loewy seems to agree with the mom’s assessment. “We are learning from the literature and studies like this that premature infants do not necessarily grow best tucked away in an incubator,” she tells to HealthDay.
But would Loewy agree with the mom’s choice in music?
As Malcolm remembers, “I was on a Coldplay kick during my pregnancy, so it wasn’t ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ for us. I sang songs like “Fix You” and “Yellow.” The nurses told me they loved it.”
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