Music has charms to soothe a savage breast

William Congreve, The Mourning Bride, 1697: (from Act 1 Scene 1)

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
‘Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.
Anselmo sleeps, and is at Peace; last Night
The silent Tomb receiv’d the good Old King;
He and his Sorrows now are safely lodg’d
Within its cold, but hospitable Bosom.
Why am not I at Peace?

Our preterm babies in general do not have savage breasts, they are cool, and rarely savage at all.  But it may be anyway that music helps them to be soothed. (Loewy J, Stewart K, Dassler A-M, Telsey A, Homel P: The Effects of Music Therapy on Vital Signs, Feeding, and Sleep in Premature Infants. Pediatrics 2013.)

The infants in this multicenter trial were randomly put in one of 4 experimental conditions, control, parents favourite lullaby, a noise maker that sounds a bit like breathing (Remo ocean disk) and a gato box which produces two gentle tones that can be timed to the babies rhythms.

I think this is a reasonable thing to think about, lullabies are known in all cultures, they seem to have similar characteristics in different cultures, and they do calm down babies.

Unfortunately there are some flaws in the paper, the authors list 4 different primary outcomes, which they say were ‘included’ in the primary outcomes. So how many they analyzed isn’t clear; it looks like they did a repeated measures test for each individual intervention, with each outcome variable, making about 20 tests for the short term physiologic responses. They also say in the methods ‘The study was powered to detect any outcome that was measured along a continuum that had a small ES’ (Effect Size). I have no idea what that means, I don’t think it means anything. They also present data about sleep without giving any indication how different sleep stages were diagnosed, and then talk about ‘good sleep’ while the graph they show is ‘for % active sleep’

This is a randomized controlled trial but the report does not follow CONSORT guidelines. as the journal website says that it must.

One neat feature of the study was that when the parents did not identify a particular lullaby, they all got ‘twinkle twinkle’. They were then able to show that the specific lullaby of the family was more effective than the generic ‘twinkle’. The lullabies where mostly sung by the parents, after some hints from the music therapists, but sometimes it was other caregivers.

Despite the limitations of this report, I think it looks like it is safe to have parents sing to their preterm babies (!) and indeed lullabies may well soothe the babies breasts.

About Keith Barrington

I am a neonatologist and clinical researcher at Sainte Justine University Health Center in Montréal
This entry was posted in Neonatal Research and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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