Music as Medicine

Well, maybe it’s not quite medicine, but did you know that music may reduce the perception of pain in newborns?​​

Babies receive a variety of tests in their early weeks that often subject them to a little pain – vaccinations, heel prick blood tests, etc. Medical professionals frequently use one or more of a variety of methods to reduce their discomfort – ranging from having the mother nurse the infant to skin-to-skin holding. Recently, recognizing that music has been shown to “modulate pain response by causing sensorial saturation, leading to pain pathway blockage, distraction, and alteration of pain perception,” researchers at Lincoln Medical & Mental Health Center in the Bronx, NY designed a study to see whether music could be helpful in reducing pain felt by infants. In their test, they evaluated the pain response after a heel prick of infants in one of two groups: a control group of babies who were given a little sucrose before the heel prick and a music intervention group of babies who received the same sucrose dose but were also exposed to a lullaby for 20 minutes before and 5 minutes after their heel pricks.  ​​

The babies’ responses, evaluated using the Neonatal Infant Pain Scale (NIPS) and its assessment of physical indicators such as limb movements, crying, and facial expression, showed significantly lower (better) scores for the music group. The researchers noted a number of complicating factors, such as sucrose use, cuddling prohibition (conflicting with the typical standard of care at Lincoln), and the lack of monitoring of physiological factors such as heart rate, which may have impacted the study’s results. Nonetheless, given the statistical significance of their finding and the inexpensiveness and ease of using music as a pain mitigant, they believed their results should encourage further study of music or other acoustic interventions, such as parental voice, to mitigate pain in the youngest among us. ​​

A report on this study, which links to the actual paper, can be found here. Our take is that there is little downside to acting on this finding, even without further research. In fact, if you have a young one on the way to the pediatrician, why not bring Smarter Sleep along to provide a little pain-relieving music?