Friederike Haslbeck sings to babies. But not to all babies. As a music therapist she helps premature infants and their parents relax and bond. As a researcher she’s investigating whether music helps develop a premature baby’s brain.

Studies have shown that music can help a premature baby stabilise physiologically, says Haslbeck. Often, she sees the effects of the music therapy on the baby’s monitor. The heart rate slows down and the amount of oxygen in the blood goes up, which are good things. The baby breathes more deeply and regularly. “So that it’s not fast, and slow, and a break. It’s more in a rhythm.”
Haslbeck also sees other signs in the babies. Movements under the eyelids when the eyes are closed, raising of the eyebrows, smiling, putting their tongues out, starting to suck. “Or they do ‘o’ and ‘aah’ with the mouth. These are all signs of feeling comfortable.”

“The most important instrument is the human voice,” says Haslbeck. “And when I work only with a premature infant – at the incubator or warming bed – then I only use my voice. What we know from early studies is that actually babies prefer the human voice over instruments.”

    . . .  at the Zurich University Hospital Haslbeck is the project leader of a research study evaluating whether music therapy with premature infants has an impact on their brain development. Using magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers are comparing the brain development of babies with and without music therapy, at 40 weeks of gestational age. “Our hypothesis is that the babies who receive music will have bigger volume, better function, more connections,” she says.

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