Unbuffered stress levels may negatively influence preterm-infants’ autonomic nervous system (ANS) maturation, thus affecting neurobehavior and psycho-emotional development. Music therapy (MT) is an evidence-based treatment modality in neonatal care. When coupled with skin-to-skin care (SSC), it may reduce stress responses in both preterm infants and their parents and enhance family-centered care. Accordingly, we aimed to compare the effects of combined MT and SSC and SSC alone on ANS stabilization in preterm infants. In a single-center, cluster-randomized trial design, ten two-month time-clusters were randomized to either combined MT and SSC or SSC alone. Families of preterm infants were offered two sessions of the allocated condition in the NICU, and a three-month follow up session at home. The primary outcome variable was stabilization of the ANS, defined by change in the high frequency (HF) power of heart rate variability (HRV) during the second session. Secondary outcomes included other HRV measures, parent–infant attachment, and parental anxiety at each session. Sixty-eight families were included. MT combined with SSC improved infants’ ANS stability, as indicated by a greater increase in HF power during MT compared to SSC alone (mean difference 5.19 m2 /Hz, SE = 1.27, p < 0.001) (95% confidence interval 0.87 to 2.05). Most secondary outcomes were not significantly different between the study groups. MT contributes to preterm-infants’ autonomic stability, thus laying an important foundation for neuro-behavioral and psycho-emotional development. Studies evaluating longer-term effects of MT on preterm infants’ development are warranted.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding: The study received seed funding from the research committee at the Faculty of Social Welfare & Health Sciences, University of Haifa, Israel. D.Y. received a doctoral grant from the Department of Communication and Psychology at the Faculty of Humanities, Aalborg University, Denmark. C.G. was partly supported by a grant from the Research Council of Norway (grant number 273534).
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.
- Autonomic stability
- Family-centered care
- Heart rate variability
- Music therapy
- Preterm infants
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health