Kristin Babb, BSN, RN, a NICU nurse at Levine Children’s, and Meredith Dean, the program coordinator at Seacrest Studios, share the ways they’ve seen music help their young patients.

Child Health, Your Health | 4 years ago

The Healing Power of Music

Kristin Babb, BSN, RN, a NICU nurse at Carolinas HealthCare System University, and Meredith Dean, the program coordinator at Seacrest Studios, share the ways they’ve seen music help their young patients.

| WBTV Charlotte

It’s not unusual to find Kristen Babb, BSN, RN, a NICU nurse at Carolinas HealthCare System University, playing the ukulele in the neonatal intensive care unit. A lifelong musician, she has an innate fascination with the role music can play in the healing process. She’s researched the topic and even attended music therapy workshops, and she frequently uses peaceful music to comfort the babies she cares for in the NICU. 

That’s exactly what she was doing one extraordinary night, as she played music for tiny twins and their mother, helping calm them in a time of stress. Moved by Kristin’s act of melodious kindness, the newborns’ mother knew she had to share it, and she graciously recorded the whole thing.

As Kristin, a mother herself, strummed the instrument and sang a beautiful rendition of “Hallelujah,” she couldn’t have possibly anticipated what would happen next. “I had no idea how much it was going to touch her and how everything would blow up from there,” she says. “It was just a sweet moment – I honestly forgot I was being recorded.”

Until a week later, when Kristen saw herself on the news and discovered her sweet moment had gone viral. “It was so touching,” she recalls.

Music makes a difference

Kristin’s story is certainly special, but it’s not the first time music has made a difference for patients at Levine Children’s Hospital. Just ask Meredith Dean.

Meredith is the program coordinator at Levine Children’s Seacrest Studios, an in-hospital radio and TV station designed to uplift the young patients with music, games, shows and lots of dancing.

She’s seen kids who may not have full use of their bodies, but are still able to use their voices, as they grab the mic and belt out lyrics they love. She’s seen kids who’ve just undergone major surgery, sitting upright and becoming responsive to the sound of their favorite song. Each and every day, she sees kids who are sick and injured, quiet and reserved, coming out of their shells – and most importantly, just feeling like kids again. “We want it to be fun for them, and we want to take their minds off their illness entirely,” Meredith says. “As soon as you tap into a kid’s passions, they forget about the reason they’re here.”

Meredith believes music is empowering and something we can all connect on. At LCH, it can give kids a sense of control and help them find words for all the complex emotions they might be harboring. “I love that musical artists really put all their issues, happiness and struggles they’ve overcome into a song,” she says. “Patients feel like they can relate to that.”

Music’s benefits, Meredith adds, aren’t just for the kids at Levine Children’s Hospital, but for their parents as well. “Parents see their kids open up – they get to see a side of their child they don’t ordinarily see,” says Meredith. “When a parent is surprised by the capabilities of their child, that’s really neat.”

The proven power of music

Kristin and Meredith can certainly agree on the multifaceted role music can play in healing, but is there any evidence to support it all? As it turns out, there is.

In fact, numerous studies in the NICU have shown the benefits live music and soothing lullabies can have on almost every aspect of a premature newborn’s health. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests music can improve a baby’s breathing, heartrate, feeding and sleep; it can reduce emotional stress in parents, too, and help them bond with their newborns.

According to Kristin, music therapy is about more than playing music. As if being born early isn’t stressful enough, premature infants spend the first part of their lives being poked and stuck with needles and IVs. “We’re doing uncomfortable things, and babies can start to associate human touch and interaction with negativity,” she says. 

This is why Kristin encourages moms in the NICU to play soft lullabies and hold their babies close, while gently stroking or massaging them. “That can really start to help babies associate human touch with something soothing and positive,” she adds.

Connecting through music

There’s still much to learn about the therapeutic power of music, but one thing is certain: Music can have, at least to some capacity, a powerful hand in the healing process.

When asked if music has ever played a healing role in their own lives, Kristin and Meredith are both quick to respond: Yes, every day. “Music has influenced my life in so many ways,” says Kristin. “It’s helped me become a confident, independent person.”

If you want to make an immediate difference in your life and the lives of others, these two experts agree: Give music a try. “Everyone can connect through music. It’s not divisive. It’s something we all come together on,” says Meredith, adding, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.”