Meeting the Challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Virtual Developmental Music Therapy Class for Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Brianna Negrete, MM, MT-BC, NICU MT


Pediatr Nurs. 2020;46(4):198-201, 206. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way some music therapists provide developmental support in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Due to safety restrictions in the NICU, adaptions have been put in place to support the developmental needs of patients and social needs of family members, through virtual developmental music therapy classes. These interactive classes provide developmental support, parent-to-parent connections, and socialization between patients.


Infants who have lengthy hospitalizations in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) are at a higher risk for developmental delays as they become toddlers (Lehner & Sadler, 2015). Music therapy is an effective way to provide developmentally appropriate cognitive, motor, and social stimulation to support these infants. Music therapy can aid in meeting developmental milestones for NICU infants who have been in the hospital for over a month (Emery et al., 2019), enhancing behavioral and social developmental domains and communication skills, and supporting and encouraging positive parenting (Nicholson et al., 2008). Facilitated developmental music therapy groups with infants are an effective way to support development and encourage more social and positive interactions between parents and infants (Walworth, 2009).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many NICUs restricted the presence of family members to only one caregiver at the bedside at a time and also required all staff and family members to wear a mask at all times when in the hospital (Preterm Birth Initiative, 2020). Faced with these restrictions, some hospitals have sought technology solutions to maintain family and social connections for hospitalized children. This technology may include virtual classrooms, Facetime, and virtual interactive games (Goldschmidt, 2020). Although screen time is not recommended for children under 2 years of age (World Health Organization, 2019), video-based interactive activities are beneficial if an adult is in the room to facilitate the interaction (American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media, 2016).

To support infant development, parent-infant interaction, and parent-to-parent connections in the NICU during the COVID-19 pandemic, an interactive developmental music therapy group was created by the music therapist in the Intensive Care Nursery at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco, CA, and delivered using a video-conferencing platform.