A review of studies on music to help tiny premature babies cope with pain, feed better and calm down has found some evidence that listening to tunes can benefit these babies.
"We did this because this practice is very widespread," said Dr. Manoj Kumar of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, the study's lead author. "Almost two-thirds of the neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are doing it."
Premature infants must undergo a multitude of painful procedures, such as blood sampling with heel pricks, and pain treatment is often underused in these cases, Kumar and his team note.
They reviewed the medical literature to determine if music -- which has been promoted as helping preemies in many ways -- could indeed reduce pain during such procedures and have other benefits.
The researchers identified nine studies: three of music for circumcision pain; three for pain during heel prick; and three of its effects on crying, feeding rates, and "physiological" stability.
A baby's blood oxygen levels, blood pressure and heart rate change in response to stress and pain, Kumar explained. And, overall, he added, the babies listening to music showed smaller changes in these measures during painful procedures than the babies who had these procedures without music.
With music, "the babies were much calmer when they were being subjected to these procedures," Kumar said.
But high-quality studies on the subject are lacking.
Two of the circumcision studies were of poor quality and found no benefit, but one high-quality study in 23 infants found that music did help reduce heart rate, boost oxygen saturation, and ease pain. The heel prick studies were all of lower quality, but all found benefits of music for behavior and pain.
Of the remaining studies, one found music helped improve some measures of behavior. The second, in 32 poorly feeding preemies, found feeding improved in babies given pacifiers that activated a lullaby when sucked, compared to babies who didn't get the musical pacifiers. The third study, in 22 preemies with lung disease, found no benefit of music on any physiological measures.
If pacifier-activated music could indeed help newborns feed better, it could have major benefits, the researchers note; however, the study in the review didn't report on important factors such as how soon babies were able to begin feeding on their own, or whether they were able to go home from the hospital sooner.
More, higher-quality research is needed on the potential benefits of music for newborns before any recommendations can be made on its use, Kumar and colleagues conclude. (Reuters Health)
SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood, Fetal Neonatal Edition, September.