The Effects of Music Therapy on Vital Signs, Feeding, and Sleep in Premature Infants


Almost all babies love music. Past studies with music and newborns have shown that recorded music and parents singing can help increase weight gain and oxygen saturation. But can live music have a similar effect on premature newborns who are struggling to grow and thrive?

The study “The Effects of Music Therapy on Vital Signs, Feeding, and Sleep in Premature Infants” looks into this effect and conducted a study with 272 premature infants born at less than 32 weeks old who had serious infections or respiratory distress. These infants received three music therapy sessions a week for two weeks. The music therapists involved consulted with the infant’s parents to find out what music the babies had been exposed to in the womb and what culture the parents came from in order to provide the most familiar music to the infant. During the interventions, the music therapist either played a live lullaby, an ocean drum (to imitate what an infant hears in the womb), or a Gato Box (a wooden drum played to imitate a heartbeat). All music was played to match the infant’s breathing and/or heart rate.  

Loewy et al, found that live lullabies decreased activity after the intervention and that infant heart rates decreased during the intervention only during the lullaby and Gato box intervention. Interestingly, heart rate decreased after the ocean drum intervention and infants showed significantly better sleep after the ocean drum intervention.

This study is important because less invasive procedures to ease symptoms and stress of premature infants are needed. There is also a risk that recorded music with multiple instruments, sounds, and rhythms may overstimulate these sensitive infants. Finding out how live music can be adapted to best suit their needs is imperative. Furthermore, if music therapist teach parents to play these simple instruments or sing lullabies in a pleasing manner may also help ease parents’ anxieties and empower them while their child is in the hospital. For more information on how music therapy can help you or your family, please continue to read this site or visit


Loewy, J., Stewart, K., Dassler, A., Telsey, A., & Homel, P. (2013, May). The Effects of Music Therapy on Vital Signs, Feeding, and Sleep in Premature Infants. Pediatrics, 131(5), 903-918.

By Jessica Fletcher, MM, MT-BC