Shortly after helping to launch a music therapy program at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital in 2016, program manager Jenna Bollard recognized one area of the hospital where many patients were in special need of the soothing and healing power of music — women with high-risk pregnancies and new parents with babies in the NICU.
Last year, the program received a grant to expand music therapy to the maternity and NICU units at the UCLA hospitals in Santa Monica and Westwood. The program is one of only a few nationwide to have a dedicated antepartum (before birth) and postpartum inpatient music therapist. “Prior to starting this program, we were seeing a lot of mothers on bed rest or who had high-risk pregnancies, and then we’d see them and their babies later in the NICU. They were often so stressed and appropriately overwhelmed,” says Bollard, manager of expressive arts therapies at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.
Now, however, any maternity patient on bed rest or in active labor, as well as parents with a baby in the NICU, can request music therapy.
Music therapy is a well-established service in health care. Credentialed music therapists offer interventions that address patients’ cognitive, social, emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual needs. The service typically benefits not only the patient but the patient’s family, reducing stress, promoting relaxation, fostering healing and normalizing the hospital environment, Bollard says. “It provides an opportunity for emotional processing and a space to relax. It gives parents a bit of control and autonomy over a situation that can feel pretty overwhelming,” she says.
Music therapy sessions are aimed at meeting the individual patient’s needs and can include instrumental music, sing-alongs, song writing, music improvisation and creating a personal song play list. Music also helps promote parent-child bonding and, during childbirth, facilitates natural, biological processes, Bollard says.
“Music can induce oxytocin, which is a naturally occurring pain-relief hormone and bonding hormone,” she says. “Music can help us get to the primal, sacred space when we go into delivery. There is a need for the body to go into the most relaxed state as possible.”
Women with high-risk pregnancies who are confined to bed rest are special recipients of the music therapy program, Bollard says. These patients typically are worried about their baby’s health and are dealing with problems resulting from bed-rest confinement, such as lost work time, separation from older children and financial stress. Music therapists work with such patients on a daily basis to promote relaxation and prepare families for what is to come. For example, the therapist and patient can establish soothing, nightly rituals by combining music with activities. They also create a personalized lullaby, called a “womb song,” that parents can sing to the baby prior to and after birth.
“We use music as a way to encourage some sort of autonomy for mothers and their partners,” Bollard says. “We spend a lot of time developing play lists and music birthing plans that remind parents of accessible coping skills and resources.”
The hospitals also offer a device called a pacifier-activated lullaby (PAL). The device plays sounds, such as a soft lullaby, the “womb song” or a parent’s recorded voice, as the child is feeding. Research shows, the device can help a premature baby learn to feed longer, and it can also facilitate growth and development.
Families have embraced the antepartum and postpartum music program, Bollard says. “Most families report feeling comforted by it and feeling touched that the hospital would offer it.”