Stop what you are doing and tell us what you hear. It’s probably safe to guess that some sort of music is within earshot. Whether it’s your current playlist providing background noise, a TV jingle, or a child’s toy providing the tunes, music really is all around us. So it’s no surprise to have recently discovered that music therapy—the use of music to achieve non-musical goals—is on the rise. We tapped Meryl Brown MM, MT-BC, DT, Neurologic Music Therapist and owner of Developing Melodies Music Therapy Center in Bloomingon, IL, to give us the what, why, and how of music therapy for both baby and mama.

StrollerTraffic: Let’s start with the what. What is music therapy?

Meryl Brown MM, MT-BC, DT: Music therapy is the use of music and all of the different elements of music (tempo, pitch, rhythm, etc.) to induce change among individuals, when used by a credentialed professional. When administered by a trained professional, music therapy can assist with relaxation during child birth, assist in lowering blood pressure of babies in the NICU, and assist with bonding between new mama and baby.

ST: We paused at child birth! Tell us more.

MB: In labor… carefully selected music during childbirth (assisted by a music therapist and all of the research that goes with it) can help support deep relaxation, reduce the perception of discomfort and pain, help to rhythmically support breathing and help to create a familiar and calm environment in which to bring baby into the world.

ST: What about after delivery?

MB: First and foremost, singing. The act of singing automatically releases hormones, like oxytocin, that are found to alleviate anxiety and stress. Furthermore, holding your baby also releases these hormones… put those two things together and BAM!  Instant assistance for mother and baby.

ST: Sing and cuddle? We can definitely do that!

MB: Always sing to your child. I always hear parents say “I can’t sing” or “My voice is awful”. Well put down your negativity. Your voice is one of the only voices that your baby knows when they enter this world and there is NOTHING that will bond you more to your child than singing and using YOUR OWN VOICE! Not a rockin’ baby CD, not instrumental music in the background by a cool guitar player… your voice. It is special to you and your baby, and it will always bring your child comfort.

Need a little assistance with the singing and bonding?  There are many hospitals that offer music therapy for new babies and their mamas to assist in the bonding process. For babies in the NICU, there are music therapy programs that help to support this bond by recording the mothers’ (or fathers’) voice in a song that will assist in the suck and swallow reflexes of the premature baby. During those times when your baby may not be able to physically bond with you in the early days, this is a wonderful way to use your voice to assist in your baby’s development overall.

ST: Would you share more about music therapy sessions? What does a typical session look like?

MB: Music therapy sessions look different for every person, every family and every need. Things that are similar between sessions, however, are the music… every piece of music is CLIENT directed. When we, as therapists, assess the needs of the individual we are working with, we learn his/her likes and dislikes (musically and otherwise) and we are then able to cater the session to this person by choosing music and modalities that are consistent with their needs. In other words, the Grateful Dead fan would likely not have a session that included death metal music (though you might be surprised in the wide variety of music appreciation of all fans involved). Infants and families with young children are not likely to have a session that includes music from the 1920’s, where older adults are not likely to include the current Top 40 hits as music in their choice repertoire.

Music therapy sessions, in my practice, with children will almost always include the following “parts”; a greeting, or way to transition INTO the session, movement interventions (whether the child is moving freely or with the assistance of a parent), a story or book (offering some visual focus opportunities), finger plays or some way to incorporate sing language, an intervention for relaxation, calmness and bonding, and a closing, or way to transition OUT of the session.

Consistency and routine, in addition to active play, are always what assists bonding and learning, and we also know that repetition, repetition, and repetition, are very much appreciated and encouraged by our early learners. Many of our sessions will look similar from week to week, depending on the skills we are working to achieve. If it’s a session like a labor and delivery situation, we will often meet with the families several times prior to the birth, similar to a doula, so that they are well prepared for the moment. These sessions may include informational talk about the research behind why we use music at certain times during the labor and delivery process, and it can use song-writing and recording by the family, as a means to offer that child and family to create that calm and familiar environment following the birth.

ST: As a Music Therapist, any tips for new moms?

MB: New Mommy Tips: Find a class with live music making opportunities. Find a library class that offers some singing opportunities for you and your child. Find a way to incorporate music into your routine at home… even if it is just singing Twinkle, Twinkle each night.

Music doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to be scary. We are born with rhythm; our heart beats, walking steps, and breathing are all part of this rhythm. Music is a part of us and we should use it, not shy away from it.