By Brian Donnelly, M.D.

Can music therapy help some premature babies?

Apparently so …

Even the Beatles would have had trouble recognizing their peppy song in the lullaby that Andrea Zalkin sang to the tiny, fragile baby clutched to her chest in the neonatal unit. But there was something unintentionally poignant in the title she chose for her son: “Eight Days a Week” is more time than can fit on the calendar. Ms. Zalkin’s baby, Hudson, born 13 weeks early, has had too little time.

As she sang, monitors showed Hudson’s heartbeat slowing and his oxygen saturation increasing. Effects like that were among the findings of a new study on the use of music as medicine.


Pam Belluck reviews the study published in Pediatrics:

Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City led the research, conducted in 11 hospitals, which found that live music can be beneficial to premature babies. In the study, music therapists helped parents transform their favorite tunes into lullabies.

The researchers concluded that live music, played or sung, helped to slow infants’ heartbeats, calm their breathing, improve sucking behaviors important for feeding, aid sleep and promote states of quiet alertness. Doctors and researchers say that by reducing stress and stabilizing vital signs, music can allow infants to devote more energy to normal development.


Music can lower heart rate and blood pressure and otherwise calm some primates.

Anyone who watched “Mighty Joe Young” (circa 1949) could testify to that phenomenon.  For those who missed that flick, the actress Terry Moore croons the Stephen Foster song “Beautiful Dreamer” whenever the giant ape is acting up and threatening to trash the joint.

By the way, that film also starred Frank McHugh – who was born in Homestead (another Pittsburgh connection)!

“Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull’d by the moonlight have all pass’d away!”

— (Pittsburgh’s own) Stephen Foster


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABrian W. Donnelly, M.D., I.B.C.L.C. is a pediatrician at Pediatric Alliance, North Hills Division.




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