In a quiet room of Norton Women’s & Kosair Children’s Hospital, UofL Music Therapist Michael Detmer cooed a familiar children’s song: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…”
As he hummed, he carefully monitored 11-day-old William Receveur, who was born six weeks early and weighs just 3.2 pounds.
He paused to give Amy Rodgers Smith, another music therapist from Morgantown, West Virginia, lessons on how to introduce massage with the music and gauge William’s response, especially for signs of distress.
But on this day, baby William was a happy listener.
“As we moved forward … you could just feel him melt into me a little bit more, his whole body relaxed and he made more consistent eye contact and we got a few smiles from him and these little rumbles they call purrs and that’s a sign of positive interaction and relaxation,” said Rodgers Smith.
And that’s what music therapists are hoping to achieve with preemies like William, a state of relaxation that can help them adapt to the outside world.
“Babies born prematurely have difficulty regulating what is happening to them in their environment,” said Darcy DeLoach, director of Music Therapy at UofL. “Music, as an intervention, provides a very structured way for the brain to process another layer of input while staying calm. So we’re teaching premature babies how to regulate what’s happening to them when they get a bath, when they’re being held, or when they’re seeing lights or hearing sounds. Music calms them and allows them to see pleasure around them. Then they’re able to tolerate whatever the next thing is in their schedule better.”
Research has shown that music therapy for premature babies can ultimately reduce reliance on medication, decrease the length of time in the hospital and promote brain development.
DeLoach said music therapy is increasingly recognized as a treatment option for premature babies and babies who were exposed to drugs in utero, a problem that has worsened in the region with the recent heroin epidemic.
Last week, DeLoach and Detmer provided special training for 12 music therapists from the U.S. and Canada who want to learn how to help preemies with music therapy. The training was offered through the National Institute for Infant & Child Medical Music Therapy in partnership with Florida State University. The institute, now in its 15th year, was held in Louisville for the first time at Norton Healthcare.
Rodgers Smith, an institute participant, said NICU music therapy currently isn’t an option in her home state of West Virginia.
“I hope to start the education process there,” she said. “Hopefully I can take what I’ve learned back and demonstrate the value.”
Lee Receveur, mom of baby William, said learning ways to help calm her child and recognize his stress signs has been beneficial. And, it helps alleviate feelings of helplessness while waiting to go home.
“It’s another opportunity to spend time with him and work with him,” she said.
Check out a video about the music therapy training: