While there are some "preliminary" indications that music could be helpful for specific purposes, such as easing pain during circumcision, "these findings need to be confirmed in methodologically rigorous trials," Dr. Manoj Kumar of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada and his colleagues conclude.
Premature infants must undergo a multitude of painful procedures, such as blood sampling with heel pricks, often without pain killing medication or other tactics, the researchers point out.
They reviewed the medical literature to determine if music, which has been promoted as helping premmies in many ways, could indeed reduce pain during such procedures and have other benefits.
The researchers identified nine studies: three of music for circumcision pain; three for pain during heel prick; and three looking at music's impact on behaviour like crying and other signs of stress, feeding rates and "physiological" measures.
Overall, Kumar and his colleagues found, the studies were of poor quality.
Two of the circumcision studies were of poor quality and found no benefit, but one high-quality study in 23 infants found that music did help reduce heart rate, boost oxygen levels in the blood, and ease pain.
The heel prick studies all found benefits of music for behaviour and pain, but were all of low quality.
Of the remaining studies, one found music helped improve a few measures of behaviour. The second, in 32 poorly feeding premmies, found feeding improved in babies given pacifiers that activated a lullaby when sucked, compared to babies who didn't get the musical binkies.
The third study, in 22 premmies with lung disease, found no benefit of music on any physiological measures.
If pacifier-activated music could indeed help newborns feed better, it could have major benefits, the researchers note; however, the study in the review didn't report on important factors such as how soon babies were able to begin feeding on their own.
Additional studies of higher-quality are needed on the potential benefits of music for newborns before any recommendations can be made on its use, Kumar and colleagues conclude.
Has music helped your baby in anyway?