A NICU is Using Mothers’ Voices To Help Babies


 Therapists at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital are using mothers’ voices to care for premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The babies are born several weeks premature in many cases, so music therapists simulate the sounds a baby would hear in the womb during the third trimester. Nurses play the infants personalized playlists at least four times a day.

“The resting heart rate of a mom is about 80 beats per minute, so we try to create music that’s around 80 beats per minute to imitate the heartbeat of the mom. Then we use the mom’s voice to overlay on that,” said Jennifer Townsend, senior music therapist at the hospital. “Babies that have their mother’s voice tend to gain weight, tend to go home earlier. This is true of babies who receive music therapy, as well, even if the music therapist does the singing. However, those that have the mother’s voice do even better.”

Specialists say that the therapy helps new mothers and fathers bond with their babies as well.

Laura Ryan and her husband tried music therapy when their son, Robert, was born four months premature. “We were willing to try everything we could to do to help Robert. It was very early on that we could see the benefits the music therapy was having for him,” said Michael Ryan, Robert’s father.

“A typical baby is in their mother’s womb for an extra four months than he received, so he wasn’t hearing my voice as much as he should have been. Just knowing he could hear me reading a story to him, listen to the music, was a huge comfort for us,” Laura said.

Now, Robert is 16 months old. He has some neurological problems, but doctors tell the family he’s doing much better than expected. His parents still play his personalized playlist every night.