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SALT LAKE CITY — Hospital incubators are state-of- the-art housing for premature babies, but they do not provide one major component of a fetus's development: Mom.
Dr. Amir Lahav of Brigham and Women's Hospital thinks the sounds of a mother's voice and heartbeat are critical missing pieces in the care of premature infants.
"This is too quiet for the baby, if it's too quiet, the auditory system in the brain is not getting enough stimulation," he says.
This is too quiet for the baby, if it's too quiet, the auditory system in the brain is not getting enough stimulation.
–Dr. Amir Lahav
Dr. Lahav has been recording new mothers' voices and heart beats for over a year.
He then plays those recordings for their tiny, premature babies through MP3 players in the incubators.
The idea is to simulate the sounds of the womb as much as possible.
So far the addition of the "mommy" sounds seems to be helping these tiny babies get bigger and stronger.
"Simply by modifying the acoustic environment of the incubator, we can get these babies to gain more weight," he says.
16-month-old Maggie Lamar and her mother, Nicole, participated in the Brigham program.
You'd never know it looking at her today, but Maggie was born more than 10 weeks early.
Back then Nicole jumped at the chance to record her voice for Maggie, singing songs and telling her all about her big sister and her cousins.
She believes the program has the potential to benefit mothers, too.
"I really didn't fully comprehend what it was going to be like having to leave her," she says.
Going into a hospital to have a baby and having to leave the hospital without the infant can be excruciating.
"It gave a little peace of mind for a very emotional time," Lamar adds.
The Brigham program is still in its infancy.
Dr. Lahav and his team will follow the children to see if that auditory stimulation helps cut down on attention problems and learning disabilities.