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Music for medical indications in the neonatal period: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials


Objective: To conduct a systematic review of the efficacy of music for medical indications in term or preterm neonates.

Methods: We searched 17 electronic databases, subject bibliographies, reference lists and trials registries. Two reviewers independently screened studies for inclusion, assessed methodological quality, and extracted data. Meta-analysis was not feasible due to heterogeneity in outcomes so a qualitative analysis is presented.

Results: Nine randomised trials were included. The methodological quality was generally poor (median Jadad score = 1). The outcomes most commonly reported were physiological measures (heart rate (HR), respiratory rate, oxygen saturation (Sao2)), behavioural state and pain. Six studies evaluated music for the painful procedures circumcision (three trials) and heel prick (three trials). For circumcisions, one high quality pilot study (n = 23) showed benefits of music for the outcomes of HR, Sao2 and pain, while two low quality studies showed no difference. For heel prick, three low quality studies provided some evidence that music may be beneficial primarily for measures of behaviour and pain. The remaining studies evaluated the use of music in preterm infants to improve physiological and behavioural parameters (n = 31; benefits observed for behavioural parameters), to reinforce non-nutritive sucking via use of a pacifier activated lullaby (n = 32; significant increase in feeding rates), and to influence physiological stability and behaviours in infants with chronic lung disease (n = 22; no significant differences for outcomes assessed).

Conclusions: The heterogeneity in study populations, interventions and outcomes precludes definitive conclusions around efficacy. There is preliminary evidence for some therapeutic benefits of music for specific indications; however, these findings need to be confirmed in methodologically rigorous trials.

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