Published in the Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, researchers at the University of Helsinki observed 24 mothers who sang or hummed to their baby while holding them during skin-to-skin contact in hospital.
The mothers who sang to their premature infants during this time had statistically reduced levels of anxiety compared to non-singing mums.
When a child is born prematurely, the baby and mother are often separated due to the medical care needed to assist the baby's development. Parents often experience considerable anxiety and stress about the condition of their baby, especially whether or not their child will survive.
However, this study found that when mothers spent some time with their premature infants through skin-to-skin contact and sang to them, their levels of anxiety were reduced.
The 'Singing Kangaroo' study observed 24 mums who sang or hummed during skin-to-skin contact with their preterm infants – had they not been born prematurely, the babies would have been between 33 and 40 weeks gestation.
In the control group, 12 mothers carried out skin-to-skin contact as standard practice up to week 40 without any encouragement to sing. In the intervention group a music therapist guided parents to sing in a manner appropriate for the age of the preterm infant. Maternal anxiety was measured at the beginning and end of the trial. The mothers also kept journals recording their experience.
According to the results, anxiety had been statistically reduced in the group of mothers encouraged to sing to their baby compared to the control group.
18 of the 24 mothers reported that singing improved their mood as well as supporting the establishment of the mother–infant relationship. 19 mums reported that their baby reacted to their singing by relaxing and 17 said babies fell asleep while listening to them sing.
Mothers sang the most during the intervention, but 16 out of the 24 reported that the other parent sang to their preterm baby as well.
Study author Kaisamari Kostilainen said: "The results show that singing in [skin-to-skin] care after preterm birth can support maternal wellbeing and the mother–infant relationship by creating interactive situations and promoting an emotional connection".
"However, mothers may need support, guidance and privacy for singing. According to our findings, mothers may benefit from support and guidance provided by a trained music therapist in singing and using their voice in support of wellbeing and interaction while in hospital care".
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: "This is a heartwarming study which once again shows the humanity of the unborn child. These babies were all born prematurely and they need much care which they rightly receive. Sadly, laws in many countries allow abortion up to birth, such as Canada, and in the UK abortion is allowed up until birth if the child is disabled. Being inside or outside of the womb should not make any difference, the baby remains a baby either way."