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Even the smallest preemies benefit from human touch and music


Parents of newborns often see their babies as small wonders that need a delicate touch. However, parents of premature babies can be scared to touch their newborns because of their extremely small size. Of course, depending on the age of prematurity, some premature infants are too small to pick up because of their health needs and medical treatments. Yet, all babies including premature infants can benefit from appropriate music and touch therapy.

Premature babies have many needs. Some have breathing issues; others have heart issues, while others just need more time to finish maturing. While surgeons, doctors and nurses care for premature babies’ physical needs, it is possible to overlook their human needs. Human touch is not a new concept to doctors, but they can dismiss the need of human touch in premature patients. However, for both babies and their parents, human touch is an important part of maternal-child bonding and a non-verbal expression of love.

Human touch in the form of skin-to-skin contact has been shown to help premature infants maintain their body temperature better and remain calm for longer periods of time. It also is a form of communication for an infant who may be too premature to see caregivers or parents. Premature babies who are going to be hospitalized for an extended period of time benefit the most from skin-to-skin contact.

Hospitals that use cuddle (pre-mature infant holding) programs have special training for parents and volunteers that hold these fragile infants to help them learn how to safely change diapers, bottle feed, and recognize when an infant’s health status is changing and cuddling is no longer appropriate or that nurses should be alerted to assess the baby.

Since many premature babies have numerous medical needs, it is important that parents and volunteers who cuddle these babies are well prepared to safely manage their needs (e.g. IV tubes, cardiac screening wires, etc.) while providing important human touch to communicate love and care to the babies. Working closely with physicians and neonatal intensive care units (NICU) is important to implement successful cuddling programs for premature infants. Parents of premature babies can be the driver to begin new cuddling programs in neonatal intensive care units.

For premature babies that are too small or medical fragile for human touch or cuddling, music is another option. Music has been shown to help calm babies who are upset. The appropriate use of music has the effect of lowering breathing and pulse rates in premature infants. Additionally, music may help premature babies get better quality sleep.

Playing soothing music, such as soft piano music or lullabies, can help over-stimulated babies relax. Quietly reading or singing songs softly can also soothe the tiniest of premature infants.

Of course, more mature or stable premature infants can also benefit from appropriate music therapy. Furthermore, gentle singing can be added to cuddling sessions to help enhance a premature baby’s experience.

Although touch may not be appropriate for all premature infants due to their medical needs, nearly all babies benefit from suitable music therapy. Additionally, babies who are medically stable may benefit from human touch, in the form of skin-to-skin contact. These two simple strategies can make the transitional period of newborn prematurity more comfortable for both baby and more enjoyable for their parents.


  • Benoit, B., Boerner, K., Cambell-Yeo, M., & Chambers, C. (2018). The power of human touch for babies. Canadian Association of Paediatric Health Centtres. Available at: Accessed December 28, 2018.
  • Caparros_Gonzalez R., de la Torre-Luque, A., Diaz-Piedra, D., Vico, F., & Buela-Casal G. (2018). Listening to relaxing music improves physiological responses in premature infants: A randomized controlled trial. Advances in Neonatal Care 18(1). pp. 58-69.
  • Loewy, J., Stewart, K., Dassler, A., Telsey, A., & Homel, P. (2013). The effects of music therapy on vital signs, feeding, and sleep in premature infants. Pediatrics 131(5), pp. 902-018.


© 2019 Deanna M. Mason. Proactive Parenting.

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Wednesday, 23 October 2019

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Dr. Deanna Marie Mason

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