Singing to premature babies could reduce mothers’ anxiety and help them bond with their child, study finds
- Researchers observed 24 mums of premature babies while they were in hospital
- They asked and supported half as they sang or hummed to their tiny babies
- They then had the mothers record their thoughts in a journal and fill in questions
- Those that sang to their babies reported an improvement in mental wellbeing
Singing to a premature baby during a visit to the hospital can help reduce mum’s anxiety and help them bond with their child before they come home, study found.
Researchers from the University of Helsinki observed 24 mothers who sang or hummed to their baby while holding them during skin-to-skin contact in hospital.
When a child is born before term, the mother and baby are physically separated due to the hospital care required to help the baby grow before coming home.
Parents of premature babies often experience stress in hospital and their worry about whether the baby will survive can be ‘considerable,’ the team found.
This heightens their risk of anxiety and depression, particularly among mothers of infants whose birth weight is very low or who are born very early.
Mums who sang during kangaroo care – that is time spent with the baby on their chest – had statistically reduced levels of anxiety compared to non-singing mums.
Researchers from the University of Helsinki observed 24 mothers who sang or hummed to their baby while holding them during skin-to-skin contact in hospital. Stock image
Mums who sang during kangaroo care – that is time spent with the baby on their chest – had statistically reduced levels of anxiety compared to non-singing mums. Stock image
Finnish researchers wanted to investigate the effects of singing during kangaroo care on the mental health of mum and her relationship with the preterm baby.
The ‘Singing Kangaroo’ study saw the team observe 24 mums who sang or hummed over the course of kangaroo care to their preterm infants – this was when they would have been between 33 and 40 weeks gestation had they not been born early.
In the control group, 12 mothers carried out kangaroo care as standard practice up to week 40 without any specific encouragement to sing.
A music therapist guided the parents in the intervention group to sing in a manner appropriate for the age of the preterm infant and provided them with material.
Maternal anxiety was measured at the beginning and end of the intervention through a standard questionnaire – and mums in the singing group completed another questionnaire after each experience with their baby.
The mothers in both groups kept a journal where they recorded the duration of their daily interventions, while the control group mothers also recorded information on the auditory environment associated with kangaroo care.
‘Prior research has shown that the mother’s voice and singing have positive effects on the development of preterm infants, among them the potential to stabilise their physiological state,’ says study author Kaisamari Kostilainen.
‘In addition, several music therapy studies have demonstrated that music therapy and singing by mothers in conjunction with kangaroo care already in intensive care can positively affect the mothers in particular by reducing their anxiety.’
According to the findings, anxiety had been statistically reduced in the group of mums specifically encouraged to sing to their baby compared to the control group.
Parents of premature babies often experience stress in hospital and their worry about whether the baby will survive can be ‘considerable,’ the team found. Stock image
Both groups were able to sing to their babies, but only half were given support in doing so. Some of the mothers said in their journal they never sang but most did.
The results of the questionnaire show that singing also had a positive effect on maternal mood and general wellbeing – even when not specifically encouraged.
KANGAROO CARE: SKIN-TO-SKIN FOR PREMATURE BABIES
Kangaroo care, also known as ‘skin-t-skin contact’ involves placing babies on the chest of their parent.
This skin-to-skin technique is particularly useful for premature babies where parents aren’t with the infant all the time.
It is named after the way certain marsupials carry their young and was first developed in the 1970s.
It has been shown to be effective in reducing infant mortality and reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infection.
It has been shown to be useful for helping small infants gain wait and increase rates of breastfeeding.
Skin-to-skin contact for fathers can help the baby become familiar with the dad’s voice and help stabilise the infant and promote bonding.
A total of 18 of the 24 mums reported that singing improved their mood, and 14 felt it helped them cope in a difficult situation.
Furthermore, the mums felt that singing relaxed both themselves and their babies, as well as supported the establishment of the mother–infant relationship.
A total of 19 mums reported that their baby reacted to their singing in kangaroo care by relaxing and 17 said babies fell asleep while listening to them sing.
Nearly all of the mums in the study felt singing promoted interaction with their infants and made it easier to establish an emotional connection.
Mothers sang the most during the intervention, but 16 out of the 24 reported that the other parent sang to their preterm baby as well.
In all of the families included in the dataset, the other parent was the father. Not enough data concerning the fathers was obtained for analysis.
All of the mothers in the singing group reported they had continued singing at home after the study, with singing established as an element of daily family routines.
‘The results show that singing in kangaroo care after preterm birth can support maternal wellbeing and the mother–infant relationship by creating interactive situations and promoting an emotional connection,’ said Kostilainen.
‘However, mothers may need support, guidance and privacy for singing.
‘According to our findings, mothers may benefit from support and guidance provided by a trained music therapist in singing and using their voice in support of wellbeing and interaction while in hospital care.’
The findings have been published in the Nordic Journal of Music Therapy.
WHAT IS A PREMATURE BIRTH, AND WHAT ARE THE RISKS TO BABIES?
Around 10 per cent of all pregnancies worldwide result in premature labour – defined as a delivery before 37 weeks.
When this happens, not all of the baby’s organs, including the heart and lungs, will have developed. They can also be underweight and smaller.
Tommy’s, a charity in the UK, says this can mean preemies ‘are not ready for life outside the womb’.
Premature birth is the largest cause of neonatal mortality in the US and the UK, according to figures.
Babies born early account for around 1,500 deaths each year in the UK. In the US, premature birth and its complications account for 17 per cent of infant deaths.
Babies born prematurely are often whisked away to neonatal intensive care units, where they are looked after around-the-clock.
What are the chances of survival?
- Less than 22 weeks is close to zero chance of survival
- 22 weeks is around 10%
- 24 weeks is around 60%
- 27 weeks is around 89%
- 31 weeks is around 95%
- 34 weeks is equivalent to a baby born at full term
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