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Live maternal speech and singing have beneficial effects on hospitalized preterm infants



Manuela Filippa, UFR des Sciences Psychologiques et Sciences de l'Education, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, 200 Avenue de la République, 92001 Nanterre Cedex, France.

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To study the effects of live maternal speaking and singing on physiological parameters of preterm infants in the NICU and to test the hypothesis that vocal stimulation can have differential effects on preterm infants at a behavioural level.


Eighteen mothers spoke and sang to their medically stable preterm infants in their incubators over 6 days, between 1 and 2 pm. Heart rate (HR), oxygen saturation (OxSat), number of critical events (hypoxemia, bradycardia and apnoea) and change in behavioural state were measured.


Comparisons of periods with and without maternal vocal stimulation revealed significantly greater oxygen saturation level and heart rate and significantly fewer negative critical events (p < 0.0001) when the mother was speaking and singing. Unexpected findings were the comparable effects of maternal talk and singing on infant physiological parameters and the differential ones on infant behavioural state.


A renewed connection to the mother's voice can be an important and significant experience for preterm infants. Exposure to maternal speech and singing shows significant early beneficial effects on physiological state, such as oxygen saturation levels, number of critical events and prevalence of calm alert state. These findings have implications for NICU interventions, encouraging maternal interaction with their medically stable preterm infants.