Time together – a program to support parents of preterm babies in hospitals
How do we help parents feel confident in their role as their baby’s primary carer and nurturer? And, how can music therapists make what they know, acceptable and user-friendly for parents? To adress these two key concerns, Helen Shoemark, an acknowledged Australian music therapist and researcher, has developed the program «Time Together».
In this blog post, she explains how working with parents in the NICU for 20 years has enabled her to consider optimal ways and times for supporting parents and their babies through their experience of hospital. Helen is also a member of amiamusica’s scientific board. She hopes that the «Time Together» program provides a useful addition to how we think about helping parents interact everyday.
How music therapy embraces the unique needs of families
When researchers and clinicians think about the needs of the families they work with, the focus is often on those with the greatest need. It is crucial that these families receive much-needed attention, thinking, innovation and support. However, we also know that being in hospital with your baby is difficult for EVERY family. So I think it is also important that the staff find efficient ways to offer every parents tailored input to ensure they feel confident in parenting in hospital. Contributing support to all families will promote optimal functioning to be well for themselves and for their baby.
«Being in hospital with your baby is difficult for EVERY family»
From previous research we know that when a music therapist sings with a baby to create interaction, the baby learns to trust the therapist. That’s because when adults respond consistently to babies’ behaviors, babies quickly learn that their behaviors have consistent meaning for the adult. We understand each other.
About «Time Together»
«Time Together» helps parents to understand those consistent behaviors, and also helps parents use their own behaviors in response. Parents don’t have to learn new behaviors/ actions, «Time Together» helps them to think about the behaviors they already have and can use. For example, newborns in the NICU experience a lot of overwhelming experiences and may have very little ability cope with stimulation, so it is useful for parents to know how their baby expresses the early cues for feeling overwhelmed. Some babies raise their eyebrows really high as the first clue that they’re feeling tired or overwhelmed.
So the first intention of «Time Together» is to help parents think about their babies’ behaviors and what they mean. Parents might also realize that it is always the little chant “ch-ch-ch” that soothes their baby at this earliest cue.
The second intention is to encourage parents’ own behaviors which encourage interaction without stressing their baby. This means parents can feel more confident in their interaction, and more satisfied that their baby is getting meaningful interaction so that their development continues while they receive medical care.
Apart from developing their parenting confidence, one of the other best features of «Time Together» is that the outcomes we hope for are achieved in just one session. So it is easy for everyone to access just one time, and then there can be more music therapy if that is useful too.
Shoemark, H. (2018). Time Together: A feasible program to promote parent-infant interaction in the NICU. Music Therapy Perspectives, 36(1), 6–16. https://doi.org/10.1093/mtp/mix004