Recorded music risks overstimulation in NICUs. The live elements of music such as rhythm, breath, and parent-preferred lullabies may affect physiologic function (eg, heart and respiratory rates, O2 saturation levels, and activity levels) and developmental function (eg, sleep, feeding behavior, and weight gain) in premature infants.


A randomized clinical multisite trial of 272 premature infants aged ≥32 weeks with respiratory distress syndrome, clinical sepsis, and/or SGA (small for gestational age) served as their own controls in 11 NICUs. Infants received 3 interventions per week within a 2-week period, when data of physiologic and developmental domains were collected before, during, and after the interventions or no interventions and daily during a 2-week period.


Three live music interventions showed changes in heart rate interactive with time. Lower heart rates occurred during the lullaby (P < .001) and rhythm intervention (P = .04). Sucking behavior showed differences with rhythm sound interventions (P = .03). Entrained breath sounds rendered lower heart rates after the intervention (P = .04) and differences in sleep patterns (P < .001). Caloric intake (P = .01) and sucking behavior (P = .02) were higher with parent-preferred lullabies. Music decreased parental stress perception (P < .001).


The informed, intentional therapeutic use of live sound and parent-preferred lullabies applied by a certified music therapist can influence cardiac and respiratory function. Entrained with a premature infant’s observed vital signs, sound and lullaby may improve feeding behaviors and sucking patterns and may increase prolonged periods of quiet–alert states. Parent-preferred lullabies, sung live, can enhance bonding, thus decreasing the stress parents associate with premature infant care.

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