This meta-analysis on 30 studies conducted over the last 20 years showed an overall large, significant effect size (Cohen's d=.82, p<.000). All benefits of music therapy (MT) supplementing standard medical treatment compared to standard medical treatment alone were in a positive direction. Results were differentiated by dependent variable, gestational age at birth, birth weight and gender. Music protocols were most beneficial for infants born between 28 and 35 gestational weeks and weighing less than 1500 g at birth. Premature females responded with greater benefit to MT (d=.91) than did males (d=.59). In the most recent study with randomized controlled trials contrasting music based multi-modal stimulation (MMS) versus the no contact control condition, female MT infants were discharged an average of 15.7 days sooner than control females. Male infants receiving MMS were discharged an average of 8.2 days sooner than control males. Live MT provided by a Board Certified Music Therapist (U.S. professional designation) was more effective than recorded music.
Research based MT protocols included music listening to facilitate calming after painful stimuli or for masking ambient noise in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, lullaby singing to maintain homeostasis during systematic layering of MMS for neurologic enhancement, and music for reinforcing non-nutritive sucking that transferred to improved feeding skill and endurance. Homogeneity of findings suggests that evidence-based music therapy techniques have clinically important benefits for premature infants.
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