How Does Exposure to Classical Music Influence Neonatal Development in NICU Patients?

Music, a universal language that transcends borders and cultures, plays a profound role in human development. This article delves into scholarly studies examining the influence of classical music on the development of neonatal patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). We will explore a wide array of research materials, including studies indexed on PubMed, articles on Google Scholar, and data on CrossRef.

Premature infants or preterm babies, often finding themselves in NICU, face numerous challenges. We will inspect how auditory interventions, particularly exposure to classical music, can aid these infants’ developmental process, focusing on brain development.

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The NICU Environment and Preterm Infants

The NICU is a specialized hospital unit designed for the care of ill or premature infants. Babies born prematurely, i.e., before 37 weeks of gestation, often end up in NICUs, where they spend their initial life stages.

According to a study available on PubMed ^1^, preterm infants in the NICU are exposed to a myriad of stressors, including painful procedures, invasive interventions, and a noisy environment. Such a situation can induce harmful effects on the infant’s brain development and overall health.

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On the other hand, mother-infant separation, a common scenario in NICUs, contributes to stress and negatively impacts the infant’s psychological development. Hence, interventions to mitigate these harmful effects and promote brain development in these infants are crucial. One such promising intervention is exposure to classical music.

Classical Music as an Auditory Intervention

Music has always been part of human life, dating back to the earliest civilizations. It has wide-ranging effects on human health and well-being. Classical music, in particular, has been recognized for its calming and cognitive effects.

A study by Loewy et al., available on PMC ^2^, demonstrated that classical music could significantly affect the vital signs of preterm infants, including heart rate, oxygen saturation levels, and sleep patterns.

The study suggested that classical music interventions led to improved feeding behaviors, reduced pain perception, and overall better growth indicators. The calming effect of classical music also contributed to decreased stress levels in these babies, facilitating quicker recovery and shorter hospital stays.

Music and Brain Development in Infants

The brain, particularly the auditory cortex, is one of the critical areas influenced by music exposure. The auditory cortex is responsible for processing sounds, and in infants, it is one of the first areas to mature.

According to a study indexed on CrossRef ^3^, the exposure of preterm infants to classical music in the NICU significantly improved their auditory brain responses. The study indicated that the infants’ brains could process complex sounds better than those who did not receive musical intervention.

Moreover, classical music exposure was also linked to enhanced neural plasticity. Neural plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt, a crucial aspect of cognitive development. Improved neural plasticity can lead to better cognitive and language skills later in life.

The Role of the Mother in Musical Interventions

The mother’s role is crucial in the musical intervention process. After birth, the mother’s voice is one of the first and most familiar sounds an infant hears.

A study available on Google Scholar [^4^] highlighted the beneficial effects of combining maternal voice with classical music. The blend of a familiar voice with the calming tones of classical music amplified the positive effects, leading to improved physiological stability and enhanced mother-infant bonding.

The Future of Music Interventions in NICU

The potential of classical music as a therapeutic intervention in NICU is gaining increasing attention from the medical community. However, more comprehensive studies are needed to understand the optimum conditions for such interventions. Factors such as the duration, frequency, and type of music require further exploration.

Future studies could also investigate the long-term effects of musical interventions on preterm infants’ cognitive and emotional development. The utilization of advanced technologies such as brain imaging techniques can provide deeper insights into the physiological effects of music on the brain development of preterm infants.

The integration of music therapy as a standard care procedure in NICUs could revolutionize neonatal care. It could play a critical role in ensuring the healthy growth and development of preterm infants, making their transition from the NICU to home a smoother journey.

[^4^]: Google Scholar

Effects of Classical Music on Bio-physiological Parameters

Classical music therapy in the NICU is not just about brain development; it also has a significant influence on bio-physiological parameters. Balancing these parameters is critical as fluctuations can negatively impact a neonate’s overall health and wellbeing. A study on PubMed ^5^ revealed that exposure to classical music resulted in a reduction in premature infants’ heart rate and respiratory rate.

The calming and soothing effect of classical music helps stabilize the heart rate, allowing the infant to maintain a steady rhythm. The respiratory rate also aligns with this rhythm, promoting a smoother, more efficient breathing pattern. This synchronization of heart and respiratory rates is essential for the efficient delivery of oxygen throughout the body, supporting the proper function of all organs, particularly the brain.

Furthermore, a significant increase in oxygen saturation levels was observed in the control group exposed to classical music. Oxygen saturation is a measure of how much oxygen the blood carries. In preterm infants, maintaining optimal oxygen saturation levels is crucial to prevent conditions like hypoxemia and hyperoxia, which can lead to severe complications such as retinopathy of prematurity or bronchopulmonary dysplasia.

Therefore, by exhibiting a beneficial impact on these bio-physiological parameters, classical music intervention can significantly contribute to the overall health and development of premature infants in the NICU.


Music, particularly classical music, has shown promising results as a therapeutic intervention for preterm infants in the NICU. From enhancing brain development to improving bio-physiological parameters such as heart rate and oxygen saturation, the benefits are wide-ranging. The incorporation of the mother’s voice with classical music also suggests improved physiological stability and enhanced mother-infant bonding.

However, more comprehensive research is necessary to better understand the optimum conditions for such interventions in NICU settings. Factors such as the duration, frequency, and type of music warrant further investigation. Long-term studies exploring the effects of classical music on cognitive and emotional development are also needed.

The future of music interventions in NICU is undoubtedly promising. With the increasing recognition from the medical community and continuous research into its benefits, it won’t be surprising if music therapy becomes a standard care procedure in neonatal intensive care units worldwide. Such interventions can significantly aid in ensuring a smoother transition from the NICU to home for these babies, setting the stage for a healthier life ahead.

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