Mother's Voice May Help Premature Babies Breathe Easier

FRIDAY March 9, 2012 -- Premature babies are less likely to stop breathing or have their heart rate slow dangerously when listening to recordings of their mother's heartbeat and voice, a small new study finds.

Because they're not fully developed when born, premature babies have high rates of lung and heart problems (cardiorespiratory events) such as apnea (a pause in breathing that lasts more than 20 seconds) and bradycardia (periods of significantly lower heart rate).

The study, conducted in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston, included 14 extremely premature infants, born between 26 and 32 weeks gestation. Four times a day throughout their stay in the intensive care unit, each infant heard an audio recording of his or her mother's voice and heartbeat.

The recordings were played into the infants' incubators through a specialized micro audio system developed at BWH.

The infants were far less likely to experience cardiorespiratory events when they heard these maternal sound stimulation (MSS) recordings, compared to routine hospital sounds and noises.

"Our findings are promising in showing that exposure to MSS could help preterm infants in the short term by reducing cardiorespiratory events," study author Amir Lahav, director of BWH's Neonatal Research Lab, said in a hospital news release. "The results also suggest that there is a period of time when the infant's auditory development is most intact that this intervention of MSS could be most impactful."

"However, given our small sample size of 14 infants, further research is needed to determine if this intervention could have an impact on the care and health of preterm infants," Lahav added. The study showed an association between MSS and a reduction in cardiorespiratory events, but it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The study was published online in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine.

More information

Nemours has more about the health concerns in premature babies.

Posted: March 2012


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