The vibrating form of communication

Sound massage in the neonatal care.

By Uta Altmann, published in TAU 3/2013

“Music is first and universal language. Sounds and rhythms already surrounded the embryo, music is a medium of his earliest communication. The experience of the world of the unborn child and the infant in twilight and sleeping moments can be thought of as a vibrational experience. “(Monika Renz, 2009)

The sense of hearing, in addition to the sense of touch, is one of the earliest formed senses in the body.  In the womb one is already hearing the orientation and perception. Thus, the unborn from approximately the 22 week of pregnancy absorb the mother’s voice through the hearing. With numerous other sounds and rhythms it forms a harmonious, confidence building environment, a first form of communication. Very similar is the case with the sense of touch. Here too, the first experience of orientation is felt as vibration. In the first months after the birth the contact is essential for the children. Thus, the intensive and regular physical contact has been shown to positively affect the development of the child and the parent-child bond. Sound massage continues this development experience by vibration.

Vibrations can be visible. Everyone knows the spreading circles, which a stone thrown into the water, imprints on the surface. Becoming bigger and bigger these waves run gently onto the shore. The same can be experienced in a sound massage. The human body consists of about 70 percent water. If a singing bowl is carefully positioned on or about the body and gently touched upon, the vibration in the body spreads ever further.

The harmonic overtone rich sounds convey the feeling of confidence and security. Letting go makes easier access to resources and regeneration and revitalization can happen.

If I am called to a “sound child” in neonatology, I let myself be primarily guided by the children, their parents and my intuition. Even before I get to know a new “sound child,” the idea of sound massage is already addressed and brought closer to the parents by nurses and sometimes by physicians. With parents consent, the station then contacted me. So from the nursing staff I get up front important information about the child and his social environment.

I prefer to introduce the sound massage in premature and newborn by the kangarooing (skin-to-skin contact between parent and child), or if the child has recovered, in his parents arms.

For the child feeling, smell and voice / vibration of his parents is felt as a part of a familiar environment. In this small, sheltered island, surrounded by all the technical equipment, countless sounds and movements in the room, I start to gently sound the first singing bowl. The sounds and vibrations spread very quietly, and yet it is often recognized by the children. As an unconscious memory of the familiar sound space in the womb.
I use several, different-sounding singing bowls for most premature infants and neonates.
So I set up the bowls around the child, partially also on the child (if it already knows the sound massage) and use the parent as a resonance chamber, by asking them to place a bowl on the knees or feet. Thus, parents together with their child are connected in the sound space.
Here, I can describe many different perceptions and observations. From a medical point of view often a slowing of cardiac- respiratory- frequency is observed on the monitor, again and again stabilising the still very sensitive vital signs.
The children themselves vary from deep relaxation with content sleep, through to waking, an interested, sometimes astonished look around in all reactions. The parent finds rest in spite of the unaltered ambient environment, the “non- thinking” and the deep attachment to her child. These are the “goose bumps moments” for me when the children and parents are borne by the sounds. If they come to resonate mutually and in a deep connection. This work sensitised them to the little nuances, to the watch and feel. There are different ideas as to when a child should receive a sound massage. Often there are children who “do their thing quite well,” with the a small boost of sounds should get better drinking, less bellyache, quieter sleep stages etc.. The restorative connection between parent and child should be supported with sound massage.

In principle I’m working resource-oriented, and aim to help children arriving in the world, with the sounds. The feedback I receive from carers that children are happier / more relaxed, have longer sleep stages, drink better, require less oxygen, are attentive etc. confirm me in this wonderful work.

So this closes the circle for me, because the use of sound for healing purposes dates back to thousands of years. Melody and rhythm are stored in our body cells as old knowledge. In premature infants and newborns and old, mostly demented patients where alternative forms of communication are necessary, sound can build and create a connection to this ancient knowledge – in a vibratory form of communication.

I warmly thank specialist pediatric nurse Silke Steens, whose idea was to bring the sounds to the children. Great thanks to the nursing team of the station 44/34 (Neonatology) for their support, their open arms for the integration of sounds on the station as well as the chief doctor of Neonatology Dr. Ulrich Flotmann for his confidence in my work.

Renz, Monika (2009): Between primal and basic trust. Paderborn: Junfermann publisher.
Hess, Peter and Koller, Christina (2009): Sound methods in therapeutic practice. Uenzen: Publishing Peter Hess.
Hess, Peter and Koller, Christiana (2007): Sound experience to work professionally with sound. Uenzen: Publishing Peter Hess.

Uta Altmann
Uta Altmann

Author: Uta Altmann is a nurse at St. Francis Hospital in Münster trained in the Sound Massage according to Peter Hess, relaxation therapist with training in integrative body work.

© Translation and editting: Alex Andrzejewski