Having a child should be one of the most exciting experiences of your life. You celebrate the milestones throughout each trimester and begin the preparations for the arrival of your newborn.
For some families, though, their journey does not go as planned. When a newborn comes pre-term, delivery can be complicated and the infant can suffer medical setbacks or crises. The expectation of a happy occasion is quickly replaced with fear. Will my baby make it through this? Will she survive being so tiny and so fragile? Sometimes parents’ worst fears come to life. Parents of babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) may simultaneously experience unimaginable grief, as well as moments of profound joy.
The weeks and months postpartum are expected to be filled with joy, hope, love, and, of course, sleepless nights. The NICU is stressful, frightening, and isolating as parents adjust to their new reality and differed expectations. A new mom who expected to be discharged from the hospital holding her infant in her arms must leave her child behind in the NICU. Daily visits and long bedside sessions become the routine as parents witness their tiny baby fighting for her life, connected to tubes and monitors, often so medically fragile that touching her is limited.
At Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, an Arts for Healing Program helps parents and pediatric patients combat the fear and loneliness that accompanies an extended hospital stay. To support families, enCourage Kids Foundation funds Music Therapy in the NICU. Board-certified Music Therapist, Judy Engel, specializes in Neonatal Music Therapy and provides bedside sessions for parents and their newborns. Judy is a member of the care team that also includes medical and ancillary staff such as the Child Life Specialist, Social Worker, Speech-Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Chaplain, and a Family Support Specialist.
Research shows the benefits of Music Therapy in the NICU are numerous. Music improves the baby’s oxygen saturation, increasing weight gain, reducing stress after pain, stabilizing heart and respiration rates, and shortening hospital stays. As Judy plays her guitar, she watches the monitor to check the baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels as a guideline to understanding her patient’s baseline functions. Judy adjusts the volume and tempo of each song, informed by her ongoing assessment of the baby’s responses. She uses many interventions during her time in the NICU, modifying and individualizing her techniques for each patient. Initially, parents may need to work through fear and grief to embrace hope for their fragile child and Music Therapy supports parents during this healing process.
Judy uses music to foster the baby’s development, model ways for parents to sing to their baby, and provide comfort. She uses Developmental Multi-modal Stimulation, which pairs lullaby-style singing with guitar accompaniment, stroking, rocking, and eye contact—helping parents bond with their newborn, allowing other people to join them in celebrating her life.
enCourage Kids is proud to support the Arts for Healing Program and its vital Music Therapy work to deliver health and healing to hospitalized children and their families at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.