Does Parent-Led Singing Improve Development in Preterm Infants? A Comprehensive Study

▴ Does Parent-Led Singing Improve Development in Preterm Infants?
Preterm birth, affecting 15 million infants each year, is associated with various long-term neurodevelopmental issues, even though 90% of these infants survive without impairments.

A recent study published in JAMA Network Open investigated the effects of parent-led, infant-directed singing on language development in preterm children. The research aimed to understand whether this intervention could improve outcomes for children born before 35 weeks gestation. Preterm birth, affecting 15 million infants each year, is associated with various long-term neurodevelopmental issues, even though 90% of these infants survive without impairments.

The Challenge of Preterm Birth

Preterm infants often face increased risks of mortality, morbidity, and long-term cognitive and behavioral challenges. The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) environment can negatively impact brain development due to its often noisy and stressful nature. However, early exposure to adult speech and singing has been shown to improve language and cognitive outcomes.

The Role of Music Therapy

Music therapy (MT) has demonstrated short-term benefits, such as reducing stress and stabilizing physiological responses in preterm infants. The study aimed to explore whether these benefits extend to long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes, focusing on language, cognitive, and motor skills.

The Longitudinal Study of Music Therapy's Effectiveness for Premature Infants and Their Caregivers (LongSTEP) was conducted from August 2018 to April 2022. This multicenter, assessor-blind randomized clinical trial (RCT) involved 206 families from NICUs in Argentina, Norway, Colombia, Israel, and Poland.

Participants were preterm infants born before 35 weeks gestation who were medically stable and expected to stay in the NICU for more than two weeks. Parents consented to participate and had to live within commuting distance of the NICU.

Families were randomized into four groups:
1. Music Therapy (MT) plus Standard Care (SC) in the NICU
2. SC alone in the NICU
3. Post-discharge MT
4. Post-discharge SC

The MT intervention included parent-led, infant-directed singing customized to each family's needs, conducted three times weekly during NICU hospitalization and seven times over six months post-discharge. Eleven trained music therapists conducted the sessions according to the study protocol.

Assessing the Outcomes

Neurodevelopmental outcomes were evaluated at 24 months corrected age (CA) using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, Third Edition (BSID-III). The focus was on language, cognitive, and motor composite scores. Assessments were performed by independent, blinded assessors who followed standardized training protocols to ensure reliable results.

Statistical Analysis

The researchers used linear mixed-effects models to evaluate treatment effects and performed descriptive statistics and intention-to-treat analyses using R software. The sample size was calculated to detect medium effect sizes.

Out of the 206 families who participated, 112 (54%) remained for the 24-month CA follow-up. The original sample included 103 female and 103 male infants with a mean gestational age of 30.5 weeks and a mean birth weight of 1400.5 grams. At the 24-month CA assessment, the mean CA was 25.54 months.

The study found no significant differences in BSID-III composite and subscale scores between the intervention groups. The mean language composite score was 94.7, with scores ranging from 53 to 135 across all groups.

Factors such as male sex and the need for oxygen supplementation were associated with lower language composite scores but did not impact the effectiveness of the interventions. Sensitivity analyses confirmed the lack of significant effects.


The study concluded that parent-led, infant-directed singing did not significantly impact neurodevelopmental outcomes in preterm children. The findings align with recent studies that also reported no meaningful effects of music therapy on the BSID-III scores in preterm children, with all scores falling within the normal range.

Implications for Future Research

While this study did not find significant benefits or detriments of music therapy for preterm infants, it highlights the need for continued research into effective interventions for improving neurodevelopmental outcomes. Future studies should explore different approaches, timings, and durations of music therapy to better understand its potential benefits.

The Importance of Early Interventions

Despite the lack of significant findings, early interventions remain crucial for supporting the development of preterm infants. Healthcare providers and researchers must continue to seek and evaluate innovative strategies to enhance the long-term health and development of these vulnerable children.

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About the Author


Sunny Parayan

Hey there! I'm Sunny, a passionate writer with a strong interest in the healthcare domain! When I'm not typing on my keyboard, I watch shows and listen to music. I hope that through my work, I can make a positive impact on people's lives by helping them live happier and healthier.

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