Hospitals turning to music therapy to help premature babies develop and grow

BOSTON — Craig and Melissa Gillis, of Middleboro, vividly remember the first time a music therapist played for their family at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the days after their twin daughters were born seven weeks early.

“Honestly, it brings you to tears,” said Craig Gillis.

Tully and Rylee Gillis each spent weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Brigham.

“You just walk in to meet your babies and they’re covered in wires with beeping machines all over them,” said Melissa Gillis. “It’s just overwhelming.”

During their time in the NICU, the twins received regular music therapy sessions thanks to a relatively new program at the Brigham. The Gillises had never heard of music therapy, nor did they know of the benefits it can have for premature babies.

“The twins just stopped crying, fussing,” said Melissa Gillis. “You could see on the screen their heart rate started kind of evening out very steadily.” Doctor Carmina Erdei, director of the Growth and Development Unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that change in vital signs was no coincidence.

“I believe this is a very valuable intervention,” said Dr. Erdei. “When exposed to carefully delivered music therapy sessions, babies have a more stable pattern of breathing rate, their heart rate, their oxygen level, their state regulation or how they calm and soothe and interact with people around them.”

Dr. Erdei said research shows the benefits of music therapy may extend well past a baby’s hospital stay.

“What we are seeing is some of the premature babies actually do better when we reevaluate their development in early childhood,” Dr. Erdei said. “They have improved cognitive and improved language outcomes.”

While more research is needed to fully understand music therapy’s impact on premature babies like Tully and Rylee, the Gillises said they are so happy they didn’t turn down the opportunity.

“These premature babies, they’re born to no fault of their own to a little bit of a disadvantage in the world,” said Craig Gillis. “When you dig down into it and you really see the benefit behind it [music therapy] scientifically and then when you watch it play out and you see all the vital signs kind of stabilize, you get a happier day after that.” The Gillises encourage other parents to explore the option of music therapy if it’s available to them. “It’s really something that I feel should be in every NICU program,” said Craig Gillis. “It’s clearly proven that it helps the babies, and honestly, it helps the parents just as much.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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