(Notes provided by Kathleen Dougherty as I was on vacation)
Our speaker was Melou Stewart Cline, Music therapist. Melou has her NICU-MT, a national certification to practice Music Therapy in the NICU. Melou also is a Neurologic Music Therapist, NMT.
Melou outlined a multimodal approach to NICU music therapy, which included humming, singing, humming with harp, singing with harp, and touch. The latter, as I understood, is only employed by NICU nurses and parents (or other approved persons).
Provide music geared to the developmental stage of the NICU infant. For instance, at six months gestation, singing and playing harp will stress the child’s immature physiology. Proceed hierarchially: Start with gentle humming (Brahm’s Lullaby has had good results) and pay attention to startle responses. Keep sound levels below 70 dB.
Startle response: The Moro reflex is when an infant suddenly extends arms and legs, arches the back, then curls everything in again. The child may gasp. (Infants may startle not only to sound, but bright lights, physical touch and other unfamiliar stressors in the NICU.)
Watch for improvements of oxygen saturation, heart rate, and relaxed states. If humming is tolerated, move to singing, then humming with instrument (harp), then singing with harp. All interactions at slow tempo and low volume. Note: I can’t recall discussion about harp alone.
These MT interactions with NICU infants can also soothe the medical staff and the parents.
NICU sessions are usually brief, 10 to 20 minutes, to avoid overstimulating the baby.
Singing one specific song to an unborn child can help Mom sooth the infant after birth. Perhaps Dad’s singing, too.(Generally in gestation babies start to respond to sound at 18-20 weeks.)
Music therapy in NICU can decrease length of stay. NICU nurses and parents may also employ gentle human touch to soothe preterm infants along with gentle humming or singing.