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Dhaka Tribune

A case for singing to your child

Update : 16 Apr 2013, 02:05 PM

study published in the journal “Pediatrics” demonstrated that what we've always intuited about the calming power of music for newborns has physical merit.

Musical intervention-- including instruments that imitate sounds they heard in the womb or having their parents sing simple, meaningful melodies-- may impart additional benefits for premature infants, reported The Atlantic.

Researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center found that a two-week program of music therapy for babies in the NICU was associated with lowered heart rates, improved sleep and sucking behavior, and, for the personalised lullabies, better feeding. 

Although they didn't look at whether the music therapy actually affected the infants' medical outcomes, the researchers concludes that “the informed, intentional therapeutic use of live sound and parent-preferred lullabies applied by a certified music therapist can influence cardiac and respiratory function.”

Really, though, the spirit behind the study is much less clinical than all that. It starts with the recognition that the NICU is scary, and depersonalised, in ways that can be harmful to both a premature infant and its parents. 

Its main focus seems to be underscoring the importance of human connection, and parent-infant bonding, for families where the infant's birth, and first days, may have been overwhelmed by the medical interventions of the intensive-care unit.

About half of the 272 infants across 11 NICUs were sung “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” chosen for its approachability. “Twinkle” is a melody that is well known to parents of all cultures in the United States,” explain the authors.

“It is based on a perfect 5th and has a small melodic range and repetitive patterns, with a simplified structure easily sung by ‘nonmusician’ adults.”

The researchers preferred, though, to use “songs of kin,” melodies chosen by the parents that were imbued with contextual importance, be it spiritual, tied to the family's culture or history, or invented by the parents themselves.

Such songs can create an atmosphere of comfort and normalcy and, they suggest, help the infant develop as a member of its family, instead of just another patient in an incubator.

A complementary approach, which the researchers described as the most innovative, matched the rhythm of percussive instruments to the infants' breath, which they believed would “evoke an environment of strength and stability.”

 These instruments need be played live, they said, because a recording can't respond to the infants' body rhythms. In some cases, the parents were taught how to mimic these sounds, which evoked breathing and heartbeats, as part of their lullabies.

There is, as the researchers note, a lot of research suggesting that finding a way to support parent-infant bonding, which can be difficult to accomplish with premature infants, can impact long-term health outcomes.

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