Video, An Overview of NICU Music Therapy

Visit the National Institute for Infant and Child Medical Music Therapy to learn more.

With the NICU MT specialized training, board-certified music therapists assess, develop and implement a treatment plan, document measurements and observations, adjust the treatment plan, and evaluate the effectiveness of services for infants in a neonatal intensive care unit. Using culturally specific, preferred, live music, board-certified music therapists achieve positive behavioral and physiological changes in the babies and reduced stress for the parents. Music therapy techniques may involve recording the mother’s singing voice to play for baby, facilitating song-writing with a sibling, or gently humming lullabies specific to baby’s native language. Multimodal stimulation, a developmental care technique, is the most commonly used technique. Immediate effects of music therapy interventions include increased oxygen saturation levels and decreased distress behaviors. Long-term effects include higher feeding rate, accelerated weight gain, shorter hospital stay, and self-regulated heart and respiration rates. Board-certified music therapists are able to train parents to use this technique in the hospital and eventually the home.

In addition, research shows that music therapy in the NICU reduces the overall decibel level, masking aversive noise. People speak softer, walk more carefully, and keep their voices down. Oxymeter machines beep less often because the live, predictable, structured nature of the music increases all the surrounding babies’ oxygen saturation levels. Research also shows that there is a cumulative decibel level reduction over 7 weeks of live music therapy provided twice per week.

There are approximately 30 hospitals in the world currently providing NICU music therapy. This number has rapidly increased from only 7 hospitals in 2002. The earlier we nurture and promote the neurological development of a preemie, the less likely the baby will have a developmental disability.

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