How Hush a Bye Baby is the best medicine: Lullabies lower heart rates and ease pain in children
- Songs such as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Hush a Bye Baby and other well-loved songs helped patients in Great Ormond Street Hospital feel better
- Heart rates dropped and the children were in visibly less pain
- But reading stories with pop-up pictures or sounds had no effect
- Calming tones may ease pain by distracting the children from their illness
PUBLISHED: 16:12, 29 October 2013 | UPDATED: 17:03, 29 October 2013
- Lullabies don’t only help babies get off to sleep, they also ease pain.
A study found that Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Hush a Bye Baby and other well-loved children’s songs helped patients in Great Ormond Street Hospital feel better.
Heart rates dropped and the children, including toddlers waiting for heart transplants and babies as young as a week old, were in visibly less pain.
In contrast, reading stories complete with pop-up pictures and animal sounds had no effect.
The researchers say this shows that the effect can’t be explained by the children simply being soothed by the extra attention.
Instead, there is something special about being sung to.
Researcher Dr Nick Pickett, who has provided music therapy at the world-famous hospital for two decades, said: ‘Parents have been singing to their children for thousands of years and they have always instinctively known that it helps their children relax – but it is exciting to have some scientific evidence that lullabies offer genuine health benefits for the child.’
The tests were also done when the youngsters were read to and when they were left to sit quietly.
Only the lullabies reduced their heart rate and the amount of pain they were in, the journal Psychology of Music reports.
It is thought that the calming tones ease pain by distracting the children from their illness.
Ian Bowers, whose three-year-old daughter Keira has been in hospital since June, said: ‘It perks her right up. It makes her feel wanted. It does leave a lasting impression.’
Professor Tim Griffiths, a neuroscientist with the Wellcome Trust told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that music seems better than story-telling at tapping into the brain’s emotional centre.
Dr Pickett said that live music is likely to be better at easing pain than recordings.
He said: ‘Babies and young children respond to the singer’s voice first and instruments second.
‘More than one instrument can actually become quite confusing and less effective.
‘Facial expressions and visual stimulation during the performance of a lullaby are just as important and live performance allows the adult to adapt their singing depending on the child’s mood.’
Other studies to find that music benefits children’s health include one from the US, in which newborns played lullabies put on more weight and were discharged more quickly from intensive care.
Although some hospitals do offer music therapy on children’s wards, it is generally paid for by charity money, rather than the NHS.