While advances in neonatal medicine have increased the chance of survival of premature babies, these children still remain at high risk of developing brain development disorders. This is because the vast majority of neural growth for a baby occurs during the last trimester of pregnancy. When this process is disrupted, due to premature birth, neural networks can be impaired and the baby can ultimately develop neurodevelopmental disorders such as learning difficulties.

To help the brains of these fragile newborns develop as well as possible despite the stressful environment of intensive care, researchers from Switzerland have used music written specifically for premature babies. The findings have shown amazing results in aiding the babies’ brain growth, resulting in neural development similar to that of full-term infants.

The researchers asked a famous Swiss composer for help in order to create tailor-made music using instruments that generated the most reactions from the babies. Eventually, the composer wrote three eight-minute music pieces: one to accompany babies’ awakening, one to accompany them falling asleep, and one to interact during the awakening phases. The instrument that generated the most reactions was the Indian snake charmers’ flute (the punji). Very agitated children calmed down almost instantly after listening to the music.

The first children enrolled in the project are now 6 years old and scientists will now meet again their young patients to conduct a full cognitive and socio-emotional assessment and observe whether the positive outcomes measured in their first weeks of life have been sustained.