Effects of live music therapy on autonomic stability in preterm infants: A cluster-randomized controlled trial

Dana Yakobson*, Christian Gold, Bolette Daniels Beck, Cochavit Elefant, Sofia Bauer-Rusek, Shmuel Arnon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Unbuffered stress levels may negatively influence preterm-infants’ autonomic nervous system (ANS) maturation, thus affecting neurobehavior and psycho-emotional development. Music therapy (MT) is an evidence-based treatment modality in neonatal care. When coupled with skin-to-skin care (SSC), it may reduce stress responses in both preterm infants and their parents and enhance family-centered care. Accordingly, we aimed to compare the effects of combined MT and SSC and SSC alone on ANS stabilization in preterm infants. In a single-center, cluster-randomized trial design, ten two-month time-clusters were randomized to either combined MT and SSC or SSC alone. Families of preterm infants were offered two sessions of the allocated condition in the NICU, and a three-month follow up session at home. The primary outcome variable was stabilization of the ANS, defined by change in the high frequency (HF) power of heart rate variability (HRV) during the second session. Secondary outcomes included other HRV measures, parent–infant attachment, and parental anxiety at each session. Sixty-eight families were included. MT combined with SSC improved infants’ ANS stability, as indicated by a greater increase in HF power during MT compared to SSC alone (mean difference 5.19 m2 /Hz, SE = 1.27, p < 0.001) (95% confidence interval 0.87 to 2.05). Most secondary outcomes were not significantly different between the study groups. MT contributes to preterm-infants’ autonomic stability, thus laying an important foundation for neuro-behavioral and psycho-emotional development. Studies evaluating longer-term effects of MT on preterm infants’ development are warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1077
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


FundersFunder number
Faculty of Social Welfare & Health Sciences
University of Haifa, Israel
Aalborg Universitet
Norges Forskningsråd273534


    • Autonomic stability
    • Family-centered care
    • Heart rate variability
    • Music therapy
    • Preterm infants


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