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Swiss researchers find music enhances brain development of premature babies

Swiss researchers find music enhances brain development of premature babies

Nearly 1% of children are born “very prematurely”—before the 32nd week of pregnancy. Though today’s modern medicine gives them a good chance for survival, these babies are still at high risk of developing neuropsychological disorders including learning difficulties and attentional or emotional disorders.

“At birth, these babies’ brains are still immature. Brain development must, therefore, continue in the intensive care unit in an incubator under very different conditions than if they were still in their mother’s womb,” explains Petra Hüppi, professor at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) Faculty of Medicine, and Head of the University Hospitals of Geneva, Switzerland. “Brain immaturity, combined with a disturbing sensory environment, explains why neural networks do not develop normally.”

Babies in intensive care are exposed to stimuli such as alarms and doors opening and closing. Hüppi and his team of researchers wanted to see if they could enrich the environment for these babies by introducing pleasant and structuring stimuli. Knowing the hearing system is functional early on, the team decided to start with music. 

A full-term baby has the chance to adjust its rhythm to that of its mother while in utero, so the researchers knew it was important that the musical stimuli be related to the baby’s condition. “We wanted to structure the day with pleasant stimuli at appropriate times: a music to accompany their awakening, a music to accompany their falling asleep, and a music to interact during the awakening phases,” says Lara Lordier, PhD in neurosciences and researcher at the HUG and UNIGE.

The team enlisted the help of composer Andreas Vollenweider who played a variety of instruments for the babies. The instrument that the babies reacted the most to was the Indian snake charmers’ flute (the punji).

“Very agitated children calmed down almost instantly, their attention was drawn to the music!” says Lordier.

So far, medical imaging reveals that premature infants who have listened to this music are developing much more similar to that of full-term infants.

Babies can begin to hear sounds outside of the womb by 20 to 24 weeks. mbrio earbud adapters are a safe, comfortable way to share music with your baby in the womb. Enjoy nurturing your little one with mbrio today!