Music Therapy in the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)


Content by Alaina LeBlanc

            Hospital settings can be notorious for generating loud and unpleasant noises. The positive and negative effects of noise contribute to an individual’s overall state of mind, physical, and mental health.

           A premature baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), can hear a large range of sounds. Babies in the womb can hear their mother’s heartbeat and the low register sounds her parents’ voices. They can also hear the delicate whooshing sounds of their mother’s womb before they emerge into the world. After their birth, they hear high register beeps of machines and other babies crying and those become their first sounds of their new world.

             Music therapy has the ability to generate calming noise to counteract the influences of a loud, jarring, and unpredictable environment such as a hospital setting. It has the unique characteristic to create harmony, balance, and tranquility to a newborn baby.

              When working with infants in the NICU,  there is the unique opportunity to build a positive experience with sound from the ground up. Introducing these tiny babies to music therapy is a wonderful first step in creating a positive and peaceful environment in which to build a strong musical foundation.

              Infants who are fortunate enough to reap the benefits of music therapy are then accustomed to it as a practice and can therefore positively respond to it in years to come.

             Music therapy encourages a peaceful state of mind, while also tapping into the creativity of music as an art form. When children hear the articulate sounds of a melody from a young age they become familiar with music and can then connect on a higher emotional level.

       “The PATTERNS (Preventive Approach to Traumatic Experience by Resourcing the Nervous System) NICU music therapy model optimizes the auditory and dynamic environment as a critical component in the treatment protocol for neonates (Stewart 2009). As a preemptive treatment program to prevent and treat potential trauma incurred by neonates during their time in the NICU, a prime objective is to avoid heightened arousal and the complications that accompany it. PATTERNS recognizes the complex circumstances that affect the infant, family, and staff as a cohesive whole; deconstructs the events and factors that could lead to trauma; and designs a prevention protocol. Because, in this model, the challenge of noise and the use of music are integrated into the whole experience of the infant, family, and staff, music is used to soothe and mask, whereas noise is avoided or at least minimized.” 1  


1   Stewart, Kristen,  Music and Medicine, “PATTERNS – A Model for Evaluating Trauma in NICU Music THerapy: Part 1 – Theory and Design”  Volume 1, Number 1,  July 2009, 29-40  Print.

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