Parents are using the power of song to bond with their premature babies in a pioneering project.
The new Babies In Tune project at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd at Bodelwyddan was the idea of senior neonatal staff nurse and choir member Julie Grocott, who was inspired by a similar scheme in New York.
Among those who are singing the praises of the music sessions are Claire and Chris Clarke from Rhuddlan, whose first child Ella was born 10 weeks premature.
The couple say they found the singing sessions a great help at an extremely difficult time.
Claire, who sang to her baby during pregnancy, was happy to join the Babies in Tune group and together with her 34-year-old husband, a fellow music fan, they embraced the experience as a family.
“It has been a very stressful and emotionally draining time since Ella was born,” said Claire, 33.
“Ella has had a very busy time trying to put on weight and learn to feed on her own, and it has been a very difficult journey.
“We found the singing a very relaxing and pleasant distraction from the clinical environment. It made us come together and feel like a family for the first time,” Claire said.
During the singing sessions Ella responded immediately, as she relaxed, her heart rate lowered and her oxygen saturation levels stabilised.
“It really has huge benefits for both the babies and parents,” Claire added. “It reduces everyone’s stress and brought us closer together as a family. I’d recommend it to other people and we’re looking forward to the next session.”
Julie has a lead role in introducing the UNICEF baby friendly breast feeding initiative neonatal standards onto the unit. Part of this aims to promote strong loving relationships between parents and babies, especially in difficult situations such as specialist care units.
She first heard about the health benefits of singing to premature babies when she attended a day course by a visiting music therapist from New York, and was keen to roll out a similar scheme in North Wales.
Julie is now working with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) music therapist Christine Eastwood, who is delivering the Babies in Tune sessions.
“There are a lot of therapeutic benefits to singing,” Julie said. “It elevates our oxytocin levels, which gives us a great boost and has tissue healing properties too.
“About 12 months ago I joined my local village choir and found the act of singing very uplifting myself. I always left feeling great so I did some research into how it could be used at work.”
Ysbyty Glan Clwyd is the first hospital in Wales to offer the parent and baby singing sessions, and already has had excellent feedback from families.
Julie said: “The sessions took a bit of arranging to start with but it has been exciting seeing the parents engage with the sessions and join in.
“We encourage skin-to-skin contact, which is the best care for the babies, and also allows them to feel the mum’s heartbeat and voice through her chest.
“Research has shown that babies do very well in that position. It is the next best thing to being inside the mother, which is where most of those babies are supposed to be.
“We use we use humming and simple songs with plenty of repetition, as that has been shown to be most effective and it can also be very relaxing for the parents because what they are going through can be incredibly stressful.
“This gives them another way of calming baby and feeling close to them.”
Julie has now embarked on more sessions at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and hopes that her innovative idea will be taken on board and rolled out across the other BCUHB neonatal sites in Wrexham, and Bangor.
Alison Cowell, BCUHB associate area director for children’s services for central area, said: “This is an innovative scheme and Julie is to be praised for all her hard work in getting it in place.
“I am delighted to hear that it is helping parents whose babies are going through a difficult time. Building the bond between them and their child is so important but not easy to do when the child also needs specialised medical care.”