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Tiny preemies get a boost from live music therapy

imageM. Spencer Green - AP
By Lindsay Tanner, Associated Press05/21/13 -  

Queens Alumna, Lauren Sandlin, a board certified music therapist, is mentioned in the Charlotte Observer story below. Queens offers several programs in Music Therapy.

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CHICAGO As the guitarist strums and softly sings a lullaby in Spanish, tiny Augustin Morales stops squirming in his hospital crib and closes his eyes.

This is therapy in a newborn intensive care unit, and research suggests that music may help those born way too soon adapt to life outside the womb.

Some tiny preemies are too small and fragile to be held and comforted by human touch, and many are often fussy and show other signs of stress. Other common complications include immature lungs, eye disease, problems with sucking, and sleeping and alertness difficulties.

Recent studies and anecdotal reports suggest the vibrations and soothing rhythms of music, especially performed live in the hospital, might benefit preemies and other sick babies.

In Charlotte, Levine Children's Hospital has had a music therapy program for five years, and Lauren Sandlin, a board certified music therapist, said she is called upon once or twice a week to sing or play a guitar or other string instrument to help calm a baby who has been prematurely removed from its mother's uterus.

Many insurers won't pay for music therapy because of doubts that it results in any lasting medical improvement. Some doctors say the music works best at relieving babies' stress and helping parents bond with infants too sick to go home.

But amid beeping monitors, IV poles and plastic breathing tubes in infants' rooms at Chicago's Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, music therapist Elizabeth Klinger provides a soothing contrast that even the tiniest babies seem to notice.

"What music therapy can uniquely provide is that passive listening experience that just encourages relaxation for the patient, encourages participation by the family," Klinger said after a recent session in Augustin's hospital room.

Music therapists say live performances in hospitals are better than recorded music because patients can feel the music vibrations and also benefit from seeing the musicians.

More than two dozen U.S. hospitals offer music therapy in their newborn intensive care units, and its popularity is growing, said Joanne Loewy, a music therapist who directs a music and medicine program at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

Dr. Natalia Henner, a newborn specialist at Lurie hospital, said studies show music therapy for preemies "does help with promoting growth. And there's some good literature ... saying that the time to discharge is a little bit shorter in babies who've been exposed to more music therapy."

Loewy led a study published last month in the journal Pediatrics, involving 11 U.S. hospitals. Therapists in the study played special small drums to mimic womb sounds and timed the rhythm to match the infants' heartbeats. The music appeared to slow the infants' heartbeats, calm their breathing, and improve sucking and sleeping, Loewy said.

Soozie Cotter-Schaufele, a music therapist at Advocate Children's Hospital-Park Ridge near Chicago, says soothing rhythmic sounds of music can mimic womb sounds and provide a comforting environment for preemies. She sings and plays a small harp or guitar, and says the sounds help calm tiny babies while they're undergoing painful medical procedures.

(Staff Writer Karen Garloch contributed to this article.)

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