NICU music

There are many reasons why newborn babies end up in a neo-natal intensive care unit. Families can spend months there, waiting for their baby to be well enough to leave the hospital. The staff at Dell Children's Medical Center is doing something very special to help families.

When many of us were children we had that special something that would help soothe us. Perhaps it was a blanket or a toy but for many it was our mother’s voice. That's exactly what music therapists at Dell Children's are using to help families get through all those difficult times.

Nothing is sweeter than a mother singing to her baby but in some cases mom doesn't always get to embrace her child the way she would like to. Like Suzanne Kilpatrick and her daughter Aza. Aza has been at Dell Children’s for 8 1/2 months.

“I don't always get the option to pick her up and hold her and comfort her,” Suzanne says.

Doctors are very careful when caring for baby Aza. They scrub up and even wear protective clothing because of her health.

To battle the lack of motherly contact, Suzanne looked into music therapy. She’s recorded her voice for baby Aza to listen to on repeat when Suzanne isn’t there.

“I can't be here 24/7 and to know that she may be upset  and just wanting to hear my voice and that  might be a comfort to her,” Suzanne says.

The woman behind it all is Della Molloy-Daugherty. She's a certified music therapist and is using her guitar to bring joy to new mothers.

Molloy-Daugherty says, “When families come here and they were not anticipating a very complicated birth with medical complications, it’s very distressing experience. But when you bring music into that all the sudden it brings a level of normal to something that is very abnormal.”

The babies who come to the NICU at Dell Children's are the sickest of the sickest and need treatment at the highest level of care. So there are some guidelines that Molloy-Daugherty must follow.

Babies must have been born at least 28 weeks into a pregnancy and must be at least a week old as well as medically stable.

Molloy-Daugherty says that the voice of a mother means so much more to a child than many could imagine.

“Research shows that (one of) the most important sounds that an infant hears is the mother's voice because they're hearing that and that's the first human sound that they have heard,” Molloy-Daugherty says. 

Singing to the baby helps with bonding as well as with their neurological development.

So Molloy-Daugherty rolls in her mobile station wherever she is needed. She records moms singing or even humming and dads like Todd Barnaby participate too.

Todd says, “The NICU is a long, hard experience there's a lot of highs and lows. They say two steps forward, one step back. So it’s a stressful experience so anything you can do to make it more comforting is a good thing.”

Todd and Molly Barnaby have been at Dell Children's for two months with baby Benjamin. They say they love hearing their songs playing whenever they come see him.

“Knowing that we're leaving him with at least a little piece of ourselves like just being able to hear our voices when we're not here is huge. And it’s comforting to him as well,” Molly says.

For Molloy-Daugherty it's all about helping those families who might be feeling helpless in their current situation.

“I get a huge sense of accomplishment in knowing that I've empowered those families to use music in a way that is really important for their family, for bonding, for normalizing this really stressful experience,” Molloy-Daugherty says.

While it’s great to record the voice, Molloy-Daugherty says that babies prefer their mother's voice to be live so she says moms should try to hum or sing their babies name when they can.

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