They say, "Dance like no one is watching," but for mamas of preemies, it may be better to say, "Sing while you're doing Kangaroo care," as new research finds that singing while doing skin-to-skin has positive benefits for premature babies and their mothers.

Researchers from the University of Helsinki contributed to recent research that looked at the effects of maternal singing during kangaroo care for premature babies. It's already widely known and evidentially backed that kangaroo care can help reduce the stress of a preterm baby, as well as offer health benefits. More, it can do the same for the maternal stress and well-being of mama.

But now, researchers believe that adding singing to a kangaroo care/skin-to-skin contact routine for premature babies can yield extra benefits.

When babies are born pre-term, they are often separated physically from their mothers due to the hospital care they require. This means that mothers of preterm babies face increased risks for depression and anxiety. The babies also face heightened risks, as skin-to-skin contact is so important. Kangaroo care is an important and established practice that places the baby on a parent's chest to improve bonding and offer the baby supportive care through touch. This is done to mitigate risks for mental wellbeing as well as to improve the physical health of the baby.

In Finland, kangaroo care is standard protocol for premature babies, and is often initiated during NICU as soon as it is physically possible for the baby to do so. Researchers at the University of Helsinki looked at 24 mothers who hummed or sang while performing Kangaroo care for their premature babies. Though born, the babies would gestationally be aged 33-40 weeks, and a music therapist guided the parents of the study intervention group to sing.

The study's control group had 12 mothers who gave kangaroo care as standard practice for their babies up to what would be gestational ages of 40 weeks. They were not encouraged to sing, while the intervention group was. The researchers looked at maternal anxiety of the mothers before and after the kangaroo periods and after the singing periods, the mothers answered questions about their singing experiences.

Mothers in both groups kept journals about their daily interactions, and the control group mothers also noted information about the sounds of the environment around them during the kangaroo care.

Kaisamari Kostilainen is a doctoral student from the University of Helsinki and contributed to research. Kostilainen said that prior research has shown singing and a mother's voice have had positive effects to the development of a premature baby. Additionally, music therapy studies have shown positive effects on the mothers who were singing or humming, as it reduced their anxiety.

After analyzing the data, 85% of the mothers said that singing improved their mood and 67% felt that singing helped them cope when times in NICU were hard. A significant 76% said that singing improved their mood overall, which is no small feat when one's baby is in NICU.

The mothers felt that singing relaxed both their babies and them, and improved the bonding process. 90% of the mothers reported that singing while performing kangaroo care relaxed their babies and 80% said their babies fell asleep to them singing during each session. Nearly all of the mothers (95%) felt that singing added to an emotional connection and promoted interaction with them.

While mothers mostly sang during kanga care, fathers sang as well, though there wasn't enough data obtained for analysis to form judgments on preferences by baby or for their fathers.

All mothers in the singing group noted that they continued to sing at home even after the study and that singing was part of the establishment of daily family routines.

Kostilainen says that their findings show singing in kangaroo care with a premature baby can support the wellbeing of mama as well as the mother-baby bond, but that mothers may need support, guidance and privacy for singing to baby in a hospital setting. The research team recommends a trained music therapist as part of wellbeing support and interaction during hospital care.

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