Mom's Voice: The Sleep Secret for Babies in Intensive Care

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MONDAY, June 18, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- The soothing sound of their mother's voice may help improve sleep for babies in hospital neonatal intensive care units, researchers say.

This section of the hospital, called the NICU, provides around-the-clock care to sick or premature babies. But the hospital environment can hinder newborns' ability to have normal sleep, said study lead author Dr. Renee Shellhaas.

"Even though we do our best to make the intensive care unit (ICU) as quiet an environment as possible, there are hospital disruptions that are unavoidable," said Shellhaas, a pediatric neurologist at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

"Alarms, monitors, ventilators, bedside care and even just the building's heating and cooling noises may be disruptive. We designed this study to see how the sound environment in the NICU potentially influences sleep and to see if there are relatively simple interventions that may make a difference," Shellhaas said in a university news release.

The study included 50 babies in the NICU who were born after at least 33 weeks of pregnancy. All were medically stable, and had no birth defects that increased their risk of sleep problems.

The infants' sleep was monitored for six hours while they heard a continuous recording of their mother reading children's books. Monitoring continued for another six hours without the recording. A number of the babies slept better and woke up less often when they were played the recording of their mother's voice, the findings showed.

Infants born after at least 35 weeks of pregnancy were most likely to sleep better when hearing the recording of their mother's voice, the researchers said.

"Sleep is a very complicated phenomenon influenced by many aspects of the ICU environment and the baby's condition. Another factor may be touch and how often a baby is held or handled," Shellhaas said.

Further research is needed, she added.

The study was presented recently at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, in Baltimore. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The March of Dimes has more on the NICU.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, June 2018
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