Mozart’s music has a calming effect on babies. It can ease pain during minor medical procedures, according to a first-of-its-kind study from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
Before having their blood drawn by a doctor via a standard heel prick procedure, just over half of the babies were played a soothing instrumental lullaby by the famous musician for 20 minutes. The other half waited in silence.
Usually, when newborns are about to undergo a mildly painful procedure, they are given a small dose of sugar as a sedative. Two minutes before the heel prick, all infants were given sucrose to slightly relieve their pain. The lullaby played during the heel prick and continued for about five minutes afterwards. Parents were not allowed to physically hug their babies during the study, Science Alert reported.
A researcher regularly assessed the babies’ pain using facial expressions, crying, breathing, limb movements and alertness. The researcher was wearing noise-cancelling headphones, so he didn’t know if the music was playing or not.
Ultimately, the newborns who were exposed to Mozart showed a “statistically and clinically significant” reduction in the Neonatal Pain Scale (NIPS) scores before, during and after the heel prick.
Today, there is considerable evidence to suggest that music can significantly reduce the perception of pain in adults, yet it is unclear how song accomplishes this amazing feat, and whether it is innate or learned.
Studies among newborns are a good opportunity for further study, especially given that pain medication is often not an option for this group.
In 2017, researchers found that when oral sucrose was combined with music therapy in premature infants, there was greater pain relief during the heel prick test.
However, premature infants are not the best group to study. They are often exposed to pain during their stay in intensive care units, which means they may have an altered perception and physical response to the sensation.
The recent Bronx study is the first to examine full-term babies. The results show that certain types of soothing music can have a powerful calming effect on even the tiniest of human brains. This may be because music distracts babies from their pain. But previous research in adults shows that lively and pleasant music relieves pain more than dark and sad music. And this means that distraction cannot fully explain the results.
The current study did not compare different types of music and their pain-relieving effects—factors that could be explored in future research.
Scientists who worked on the current trial say they are now interested in whether parental voices can be as soothing to newborns as Mozart.