January 9, 2005, Updated September 13, 2012

Babies born prematurely slept significantly more deeply and had a reduced heart rate after hearing the live music. Two recent Israeli studies are providing some good news for expectant mothers. In the first study, researchers have shown how pregnant women with diabetes can avoid giving birth to overly large babies – a common occurrence. And in the other study, researchers found that playing live music helps sooth premature babies being cared for in neonatal units.

According to the study conducted by doctors at the Emek Medical Center in Afula, pregnancy and delivery problems for woman with diabetes can be avoided if mothers strictly control their blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

“We wanted to compare the attributes of babies born to women with diabetes and babies born to women without diabetes,” Dr. Raed Salim told ISRAEL21c. “Recent reports have pointed to the fact that there are fewer complications for the diabetic mother during pregnancy, delivery and post partum if they control their glucose levels, but there has never been a study on the effects on the babies.”

Infants of diabetic mothers have previously been reported to be heavier differ in body composition from those of non-diabetic mothers. This might be one reason why shoulder problems during birth arise more often among such babies, the investigators point out in the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“Generally, the hypoglycemia which diabetic women develop is transferred to the fetus, and the result is that big babies are introduced. The babies usually have big shoulders, and abdomens, with extra fat,” said Salim. “Because of this extra size, particularly around the shoulders, there’s a problem with vaginal delivery. The head comes out, but the shoulders get stuck – this can cause damage to the nerve system in the babies’ arms.”

Salim and his Emek Medical Center colleagues – Dr. Jamal Hasanein, Dr. Zohar Nachum and Dr. Eliezer Shalev – investigated whether body measurements differed between infants of 67 non-diabetic mothers and those of 67 diabetic mothers who maintained strict control of their blood glucose levels. The mothers were equally mixed between Israeli Jews and Arab women.

“Our study surmised that if a woman’s glucose level could be controlled, then maybe the size of her babies could be controlled too,” said Salim.

What they found out is that average birth weights were essentially the same in the two groups, the team found, and the number of infants who were very light or very heavy did not differ either. Moreover, among the 11 newborns in each group who weighed 4000 grams or more, there were no significant differences in body measurements

“After the births, we measured the circumferences of the head, shoulders, abdomen, and found that there was no discernable difference between the babies born to diabetic mothers and the babies born to non-diabetic mothers,” said Salim.

There were no cases of shoulder complications during delivery in either group, the researchers note. The diabetic group did undergo twice as many cesarean deliveries as the non-diabetic group, but the researchers say this difference likely resulted from their department’s policy regarding delivery mode for diabetic and non-diabetic women.

Salim said that he hopes the result of the study will help change the perception in the medical profession that babies born to diabetic women will generally need a caesarean delivery.

“Generally, babies born over 8 pounds to diabetic mothers are delivered via caesarian due to the shoulder problems. In regular cases, the guidelines for natural birth are usually up to 10 pounds. We hope that the results will in the future, lower the percentages of caesarian deliveries of babies born to diabetic women.
If the mother’s glucose levels are controlled, the chances that the baby is oversized decreases, thus increasing the possibility of a vaginal delivery,” he said.

Salim’s colleague Shalev told Reuters Health, that if diabetic women can keep their glucose levels down during pregnancy, they “have the same chance for vaginal delivery as those who are not diabetic.”

The researchers urged diabetic women to follow a proper diet during pregnancy and, like other pregnant women, to take folic acid daily.

In the other study, Israeli researchers found that playing live music helps sooth premature babies being cared for in neonatal units. The study, presented earlier this year to the British Psychological Society conference in Leeds, found live music was more effective than recorded music.

Babies slept more deeply and had a reduced heart rate after hearing the female voice and harp piece live. The researchers say neonatal units should use live music, such as mothers singing lullabies, to help babies.

The researchers, led by Dr. Shmuel Arnon from the Neonatal Department in Netanya Hospital, compared the effects of 30 minutes-worth of no music, recorded music and live music on 15 premature babies. The babies were then monitored for 30 minutes.

It was found that babies slept significantly more deeply and had a reduced heart rate after hearing the live music. Arnon told BBC News Online: “It could be that the live music is different to recorded music in its timbre, its echo, and other variables that could influence the baby.”

“I think music should be played in neonatal intensive care units. Babies would benefit from around half an hour’s music a day.”

Arnon suggested mothers could be encouraged to sing lullabies to their babies, if they were being cared for in such units, which tend to be dominated by the noise of the machines monitoring the infants.

He added: “This is beneficial to premature babies. Other research has shown that if you reduce their heart-rate and they sleep better, then they can go home earlier than other babies.”

He said the team were looking at the best volume to play music at. In this study, music was played at between 55 and 75 decibels – a mother’s lullaby would be sung at about 50, and a normal speaking voice registers at around 30.

The team is now planning further research looking at a larger group of babies, and comparing different types of music.

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Jason Harris

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