Harp lullabies help soothe premature babies, families and NICU staff

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Music therapy helps soothe babies in Rex Hospital's NICU.

Volunteer harpist Nancy Brockman plays as a therapeutic musician for the babies at UNC Rex's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit once a week.

"When I come in the door, I head for the nearest crying baby," Brockman said. "My job is to provide a calm and healing environment for them. I set up outside the door because of safety precautions, and I'll start playing very soothing music for them and generally they respond."

Brockman started playing the harp seven years ago as she was rehabbing from a hip replacement. She loved it and decided to get a certificate through music for healing and transition.

This fall, she was certified as a music practitioner serving her internship at UNC Rex in the NICU.

"So, it's been a pleasure and I've learned so much about the newborns and how the harp really calms them and helps them," Brockman said.

Brockman said that as a therapeutic musician, she provides an environment for healing which is different from a music therapist who works with a patient for a precise outcome.

"So, we watch the patient, it's all in the now and as the patient responds, we vary the music accordingly," Brockman explained.

The Medical Director for Rex Neonatology, Dr. Marie Ambroise Thigpen, said the soothing melodies can be very beneficial to the patients.

"Studies have shown music can do wonders and have great benefits for babies," Thigpen explained. "It helps lower their breathing rate especially when mom and dad are holding the baby, it can lower their heart rate if they are agitated or upset and also help with their feeding ability.

"It also decreases stress from the parents," Thigpen added. "Because, as you know, being in the NICU is a stressful environment for the parents and having some music therapy can help the parents just feel a little less stress. I have to add, I think it's helpful for the staff as well."

Therapeutic musicians also play for patients in hospice care.

"It's a gift I can give," Brockman said. "I played for my husband at the end of his life, and it meant so much to him and my mother, too. So, it's just been a very important part of my life. There's something very healing about the vibration."
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