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Longitudinal Study of music Therapy’s Effectiveness for Premature infants and their caregivers (LongSTEP): Feasibility study and international randomized controlled trial

Claire Ghetti, Christian Gold, og Łucja Bieleninik

Claire M. Ghetti, Ph.D., LCAT, MT-BC is Associate Professor of Music Therapy, The Grieg Academy, University of Bergen, Norway, and a researcher at GAMUT. She has worked with infants, children and adults in intensive and long-term care medical settings and adults with substance use problems and HIV/AIDS. Her interests include music therapy to reduce traumatization in medical contexts, improving preterm infant/caregiver interaction, and music therapy as emotional-approach coping.

Christian Gold, Ph.D. is Principal Researcher at Uni Research, Bergen, Norway; Adjunct Professor at the University of Bergen; Honorary Professor at Aalborg University, Denmark; Editor of the Nordic Journal of Music Therapy; and Associate Editor of the Cochrane DPLP Group. He also has a private music therapy practice in Vienna. His main research interests include outcome research (clinical trials and meta-analyses), their methodology and application in music therapy in mental health.

Łucja Bieleninik - Ph.D. of Psychology, is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Institute of Psychology, University of Gdansk in Poland, and a researcher at GAMUT, Uni Research Health in Bergen, Norway. She has published peer-reviewed research, authored a monograph about mothers’ perceptions of premature children, and co-edited a book about motor disability in the biopsychosocial approach on the challenges of diagnosis, rehabilitation and therapy. Her scientific interests concern perinatal psychology, clinical psychology, and neuropsychology..

Preterm birth and prematurity is a major medical, psychological and socio-economic problem worldwide. Each year, 14.9 million infants are born prematurely and are at risk of mortality, morbidity, and lifespan sequelae. Preterm birth places significant stress upon caregivers, and associated hospitalization can impair the mother-infant relationship, which may have a lasting impact on the infant. Music therapy may provide a means for caregivers to bond with their premature infant, promote beneficial co-regulation and improve outcomes for both infant and caregivers.

This paper presents preliminary findings from the LongSTEP feasibility study and describes the aims and methodology of the 4-year LongSTEP international randomized controlled trial (RCT). The LongSTEP main study represents the first randomized controlled trial of music therapy (MT) for premature infants conducted in Norway, and is the first multi-center international trial of MT to assess long-term outcomes from longer term use of MT with premature infants and their caregivers. The LongSTEP main study consists of a factorial (2x2), multi-center, assessor-blind pragmatic RCT evaluating the effectiveness of MT intervention throughout neonatal intensive care hospitalization and across a 6-month time period after families return home. The study will assess longitudinal effect of MT on parent/infant bond, infant development, and parental mental health. It is hypothesized that improving parent/infant bond and improving the quality of interaction will promote better long-term infant development and positively impact parental psychological functioning. The feasibility study evaluates the feasibility and acceptability of the MT intervention and the measurement tools proposed for the main study.

Results: Information gleaned from the LongSTEP feasibility study will play a key role in informing the design and implementation of the main study.

Conclusions: The use of MT for premature infants and their families is currently in inception within Nordic countries. The LongSTEP feasibility and main studies are poised to offer a valuable contribution to the evidence base and to practice development in this highly-specialized area of practice.

Bieleninik, Ł., Ghetti, C., & Gold, C. (2016). Music therapy for preterm infants and their parents: A meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 138 (3): e20160971.

Blencowe, H., Cousens, S., Chou, D., Oestergaard, M., Say, L., Moller, A.-B., . . . et al. (2013). Born Too Soon: The global epidemiology of 15 million preterm births. Reproductive Health, 10(Suppl 1). doi: 10-1186/1742-4755-10-S1-S2

Haslbeck, F. B. (2012). Music therapy for premature infants and their parents: An integrative review. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 21(3), 203-226.

Loewy, J., et al., (2013). The effects of music therapy on vital signs, feeding, and sleep in premature infants. Pediatrics, 131, 902-918.