Benefits of a Comprehensive Evidence-Based NICU-MT Program

Family-Centered, Neurodevelopmental Music Therapy for Premature Infants

Jayne M. Standley, PhD, MT-BC, NICU-MT; Ciele Gutierrez, MM, MT-BC (NICU-MT)


Pediatr Nurs. 2020;46(1):40-46. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Twenty years of research demonstrate that multiple positive benefits accrue from Neonatal Intensive Care-Music Therapy (NICU-MT), an evidence-based, specialized training in music therapy, neurodevelopmental, family care intervention for premature infants. Research is now advanced enough to identify specific, detailed NICU-MT protocols, type of music, and expected outcomes appropriate for gestational age, neurodevelopmental responses, and sex of the infant. This article reviews the research in this area and describes 11 referral reasons and NICU-MT protocols for premature infants and four reasons for counseling/interaction training with their parents. Additionally, three protocols are described for following premature infants after discharge to assist parents with transition to home care. Because NICU-MTs are often requested to assist with treatment of the epidemic of inconsolable infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a research review for this treatment area and four evidence-based NICU-MT protocols to console and facilitate NICU treatment of NAS infants is also included.


Neonatal Intensive Care-Music Therapy (NICU-MT) is an evidence-based, specialized training in music therapy, neurodevelopmental, and family care intervention for premature infants. The Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) with a NICU-MT certificate is a board-certified music therapist who has completed specialized training in evidence-based, family-centered, developmental care of premature infants. They function as an integral member of the NICU treatment team emphasizing neurologic development, relief of pain and stress, and parental involvement in care. The NICU-MT uses physician referral for specific evidence-based protocols (Standley, 2003a) with documented outcomes (Gooding, 2010; Standley, 2012a). These protocols receive third-party reimbursement with tracked rate of return equal to the cost of the position (Standley & Walworth, 2010). Research shows that NICU-MT improves care, shortens NICU stay, and reduces medical costs (Standley, 2012a). Research also shows that for many years, NICU staff expectations have been positive for benefits to premature infants (Kemper et al., 2004).