Research published this week by Great Ormond Street Hospital suggests that lullabies can help reduce pain.
This tallies with the findings of our own work on the wards of The Royal London Hospital. For the past four years, Spitalfields Music has worked with Vital Arts, the groundbreaking arts and health organisation for Barts Health NHS Trust, on post-labour wards and both inpatient and outpatient paedriatic wards.
The starting point for our work was research studies, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (Kumar, 2006) which reviewed nine studies and found music reduced pain, encouraged better oral feeding, helped stabilise babies heart rate, oxygen and blood levels. Dr. Manoj Kumar and his colleagues concluded that ‘evidence suggests that music may have beneficial effects in terms of physiological parameters, behavioural states and pain reduction during painful medical procedures.’ The trials also indicated that music can help premature babies who struggle with feeding, potentially leading to shorter hospital stays.
Our first project at The Royal London Hospital, piloted in 2010 and repeated in January 2011, recorded and created new lullabies on the post-labour wards. Designed to encourage new parents to incorporate music as they bond with their newborns, and celebrating the wonderfully diverse cultural mix of the families, the project had a profound effect. Postnatal wards are noisy and busy, and mums, babies and staff benefit from a more calming environment. Nursing staff reported that when musicians came onto the ward, there was an immediate, perceptible change in atmosphere – it became quieter, calmer and everyone seemed at ease – and the effect lasted well after their departure. Participating families received a songbook and CD to play and sing to their babies at home.
A second pioneering project, in 2011, was designed to help babies in long-term care meet their developmental milestones. Many infants stay in the hospital’s Gastroenterology Ward for significant periods of time; some as old as three have never been home and require ongoing treatment for gastroenterological conditions that can affect their feeding and growth. Developed alongside play specialists, paediatric physiotherapists and occupational therapists, Baby Bird’s Journey provided both a positive, soothing activity and an extensive repertoire of songs for parents and carers to ensure infants keep up to date with their developmental targets. Promoting language, literacy and numeracy, plus co-ordination of fine and gross motor control, songs from around the world were used to give parents, carers and hospital staff the confidence to use their voice as a therapeutic and developmental tool at babies’ bedside on the ward and later, in the home.
Three musicians incorporated a selection of soothing lullabies, educational and action songs. Vital Arts commissioned local artist Rachel Gannon of Ink Illustration to produce an illustrated songbook resource to accompany a specially recorded CD for parents, carers and hospital staff.
Most recently, we’ve introduced singing to new areas of the The Royal London with a range of young oncology patients attending the Retinoblastoma Clinic and other inpatient areas and we have returned to the Gastroenterology Ward. Under the guidance of speech and language therapists we’ve been working with these infants, their families and carers to produce a new CD of songs, The Song Weaver, to address common developmental delays in speech and movement. We’ve also been extending our lullabies reach to those on the Neonatal Unit.
This new study by Great Ormond Street is a welcome addition to a fascinating area of research, and underlines what many – especially those with personal experience of soothing a child through song – had long suspected. We have a responsibility to build a practical response to this research and provide music activity on the wards that reflects a clinical need. Spitalfields Music’s partnership with Vital Arts and our pioneering work at The Royal London Hospital are ongoing. But, we are unfortunately ploughing a thinly sown field. More resources and research, more pioneering projects and a sharing of artistic practice and expertise are needed to increase the yield and make this area of important work grow more fertile.
Clare Lovett (Programme Director: Learning & Participation) and Rachel Louis (Arts Participation Manager, Vital Arts)