We have published some smaller studies over the past few years raising the possibility that music or certain types of music are beneficial to the growth and development of preterm infants in our neonatal intensive care unit. Yet the sample size is small and the limitations of such studies often leave you feeling like you need more proof as to whether music therapy really improves outcomes for infants or their parents in the NICU or after discharge.
Bieleninik et al. (10.1542/peds.2016-0971) tried to resolve these limitations by performing a meta-analysis of data published on the effect of music therapy on preterms and their families. The authors specifically looked for parallel or crossover randomized controlled trials of music therapy compared to standardized care or placebo, and 16 studies met inclusion criteria and 14 could be used for a meta-analysis that included 946 infants and 266 parents.
While the analysis revealed that music therapy may help reduce respiratory rate and maternal anxiety, other physiologic or behavioral outcomes in the short term and long-term are just not yet available in the peer-reviewed literature—but recognizing this deficit through this meta-analysis, may be music to the ears of neonatologists who will want to design trials to better understand and document the role of music therapy in the growth and development of preterm infants.