When a baby is born pre-term, life becomes very challenging for both baby and parents. Appropriate auditory stimulation becomes utmost important during very early years of life.
High risk babies are shifted to NICU where they are suddenly exposed to high level of sounds. Unless there is any congenital abnormality, most infants are able to hear at birth. The unpredictable noises in NICU from ventilators, cardiac monitors, infusion pumps, alarms, pagers etc., can lead to physiological changes in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and oxygenation. Exposure to such noises in NICU can lead to increased crying, reduced deep sleep and hyperalertness. Hence, high risk babies hearing screening at birth and at regular interval is important to monitor speech and hearing development milestones. If baby does not pass hearing screening by the age of 3 months, diagnostic hearing assessment including BERA is needed. If hearing loss confirmed then intervention of hearing loss should be started by 6 months of age to achieve near normal hearing and speech milestones.
Sensory stimulation soon after birth is very important to develop neuronal connections in brain. This map the sensations received during critical period and establish base for speech and language development.
Here are few tips or guidance which can help to provide enriching auditory experience in NICU or at home.
- Baby can be introduced to recordings of mother’s voice in NICU. It will help in providing baby with mother’s vocalization, tone, intonation, quality of speech right from the first day of birth. This is believed to promote speech, hearing and social development.
- In case of non-availability of mother’s voice recording, baby can be exposed with vocal music; having lot of intonation, vocalization, rhythm and melody in NICU. This is shown to improve oxygen saturation level, weight gain, and decreasing overall stay in the hospital.
- Infants can be introduced to recordings of various sounds like flowing of water, chirping of birds; near ear. It provides relaxed environment, helping in healing and further development.
- Infants can be introduced to recordings of vocalizations and cooing of babies; near ear. It helps infant to remain associated and doesn’t feel alone.
- Selection of audio equipment for playing music or mother’s voice should be used with caution. Prior testing should be done for delivery of sound at safe decibel levels.
- Mothers should start talking to their babies right from first day, sing to baby, and play musical toys around baby, read a story to baby, shaking rattle from different areas of crib, expose to different types of environmental sounds around us.
- Mother-baby bond is very important. It will help baby feel more secure and stimulation will work best. Use of Motherse/baby talk is recommended for speech and language development during early years of life.
- Association of visual object with sound help baby to associate sound with object. This will help in establishing meaning to object and child will start recognizing objects by listening.
IF BABY IS BEING AUDITORILY STIMULATED PROPERLY, THEY WILL SMILE, COO, BABBLE, MAKE EYE CONTACT, AND ALERT FACIAL EXPRESSIONS. SO, PROVIDE ENRICHED EARLY SENSORY EXPERIENCE TO GET BEST OF AUDITORY BRAIN PLASTICITY DURING EARLY YEARS OF LIFE.