Using Music Therapy In The NICU

A big part of my job as a doula is connecting families to community resources. To do this well, I am always networking and connecting with other profesionals who share the common goal of enriching the lives of families during the childbearing year. Along the way I have met so many dedicated individuals offering amazing services to families.


I am so excited to have the opportunity to introduce you to Suzanna Peczenuik-Hoffman MM,MT-BC, NICU-MT, NMT and her music therapy work with families in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, MI. Read her interview to learn more!



Cassie: What is music therapy?

Suzanna: According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), "Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program." In short, board-certified music therapists use music to attain non-musical goals.


How did you become a music therapist?

I first became interested in music therapy when I started by undergraduate degree in vocal performance at Michigan State University. For me, music therapy combined two things that I was interested in the most—music and healthcare. In order to become a music therapist, a person must complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in music therapy from an accredited university, complete 1200+ hours of practicum and internship, and pass a board certification exam to earn the credentials MT-BC, which stands for Music Therapist-Board Certified.


What kind of services do you provide to parents in the Neonatal Itensive Care Unit (NICU)?

In the NICU, I encourage parents to sing, talk, and read to their babies when it is appropriate for gestational age. I usually start seeing babies as early as 28 weeks gestation, if medically stable. I begin with the least stimulating music—I sing to the babies, encourage parents to sing, and if the baby tolerates it I add guitar or ocean drum. I empower parents at a time when they feel hopeless and nervous. I make recordings of parents’ heartbeats and voices so that when they are not around, their baby can still hear them. This is especially empowering for moms who feel like their body gave up on them but that they can still give a piece of themselves (their heartbeat) to their baby. I also make custom/personalized lullabies for babies with help/input from parents. I also teach a special kind of massage with music called multimodal stimulation with music or multimodal neural enhancement. This intervention combines singing, rocking, and infant massage which helps babies tolerate stimulation, eat better and go home faster. As babies grow, music therapists promote developmental play with music and provide ideas on how to use music for development at home. Music therapists are often part of the treatment team at most major hospitals and they frequently complement other disciplines—physicians, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, child life specialists, doulas, etc.


How does music therapy benefit parents?

Parents are usually more relaxed. They feel that they can do something for their baby—whether it be make a recording with the music therapist, give their baby a special kind of massage with music, etc. Sometimes parents are very stressed and anxious and a music therapist can meet with parents individually for relaxation sessions. Music therapists may utilize techniques such as guided imagery with music, progressive muscle relaxation or other types of music-assisted relaxations to help parents relax.  Music therapy is for people of all ages. It is important for music therapists to help all family members—parents (biological or adoptive), babies, siblings, and other family members that are going through the experience of having a baby in the NICU.


How does music therapy benefit babies?

Music therapy helps with neurological development.  It can help increase a baby’s tolerance to auditory, tactile, vestibular, and visual stimulation. It can help babies eat better and go home faster. According to research in the NICU, with multimodal stimulation with music, boys can gain about 2.2 grams per day more and can go home about 2 days faster. Girls may gain about 5.5 grams per day more and go home about 12 days faster. Music therapy can help mask noise, promote parent-infant bonding, and help nurture babies to their fullest potential.


Are there any risks or times when music therapy should not be used?

A credentialed music therapist will assess to see if a baby is ready. Music therapists look at gestational age, medical stability, and overall readiness before the baby receives music therapy.  Every day is a different day so sometimes there will be times that music therapy services are not appropriate for that moment. When a baby is provided with a recording, the music therapist uses a sound meter to check the sound level at the baby’s ear so that the music is not too loud and does not cause hearing damage. Music therapists also make sure that lullaby music is appropriate for gestational age so that the music is not stressful for the baby. If music is used incorrectly, there is a risk for longer length of stay (due to higher cortisol levels, desats, bradycardia, disturbed sleep, etc.) and has the potential to be dangerous.


How can we support the music therapy program at Bronson Methodist Hospital?

Donations are always welcome to the Bronson Health Foundation (Attn: Music Therapy). In addition to money, individuals may donate blank CDs, CD cases, or consult the current needs wishlist available through the Bronson Health Foundation since music therapy does see patients in other areas of the hospital in addition to the NICU and Antepartum units. If interested, individuals are encouraged to attend any fundraisers such as Bronson’s Annual 5K/Walk (always the last Sunday in September), Bronson’s Rockathon, Hot Dogs for Healthcare, etc. Moreover, spreading the knowledge that this field exists and is beneficial is a wonderful way to advocate for music therapy in general and music therapy at Bronson.


What can someone do to do get a music therapy program started at their local hospital?

The most important thing is to confirm with the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) that the individual is a board-certified music therapist in good-standing when consulting with a music therapist. If you have questions, feel free to contact me at, the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) at  or contact the American Music Therapy Association at


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GR Birth and Wellness is a collective of practitioners deeply committed to supporting maternal wellness in the childbearing year. Massage therapists hold current state licenses in good standing, while doulas are certified or actively pursuing certification through the respected third-party organization, DONA International.

We provide non-judgmental support to families with a wide variety of circumstances and preferences, including hospital & home births. 

GR Birth and Wellness serves families in West Michigan including Greater Grand Rapids, Holland, Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Muskegon, and Fremont.

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Grand Rapids, MI 

Call/Text: 616-965-1590


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