Music helps NICU newborns, parents connect

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There is nothing sweeter than a mother singing to her baby. But in Aza Kilpatrick's case, her mom doesn't get to embrace her baby the way she'd like to because Aza is in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, at Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin, Texas.

"Aza has been there for 8 1/2 months," her mother Suzanne Kilpatrick says. "I don't always get the option to pick her up and hold her and comfort her."

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The NICU doctors are very careful in caring for Ava, scrubbing often and wearing protective clothing because of her fragile health.   Because she can't have a lot of physical contact, Suzanne has turned to music. She’s recorded her voice for Aza to listen to on repeat when she's not there.

“I can't be here 24/7 and to know that she may be upset,” says Kilpatrick.  “And (I’m) just wanting her to hear my voice, and that might be a comfort to her.”

The woman behind all of this is Della Molloy-Daughtery, a certified music therapist, helping the NICU parents and babies connect.

"When families come here, and they were not anticipating a very complicated birth with medical complications, it’s a very distressing experience,” says Molloy-Daugherty, “But when you bring music into that, all the sudden it brings a level of normal to something that is very abnormal.”

"Research shows that the most important sounds that an infant hears is the mother's voice because they're hearing that and that's the first human sound that they have heard,” she says.

Todd Barnaby hummed a song for his infant son Benjamin, who’s been in the NICU for 2 months.

“The NICU is a long, hard experience,” says Barnaby. “There's a lot of highs and lows. They say two steps forward, one step back,  So it’s a stressful experience.  Anything you can do to make it more comforting is a good thing.”

The Barnabys love knowing Benjamin can listen to their voices, even when they’re not there.

“Knowing that we're leaving him with at least a little piece of ourselves, like just being able to hear our voices when we're not here is huge,” says Molly Barnaby. “And it’s comforting to him as well.”

Molloy-Daughtry says she liked being about to help her young patients and their parents connect.

"I get a huge sense of accomplishment in knowing that I've empowered those families to use music in a way that is really important for their family, for bonding, for normalizing this really stressful experience,” she says.