For Julieann Hartley, humming to a baby can say an awful lot

  • Julieann Hartley of the Concord Community Music School in Concord demonstrates how to comfort a baby using voice and touch. She is a board-certified music therapist and a member of the American Music Therapy Association. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/9/2017 11:57:19 PM

The blanket-wrapped baby Julieann Hartley cradled in her arms wasn’t real.

The problem she was addressing at the time, however, was.

Hartley, who works at the Concord Community Music School, hummed “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in a soothingly soprano tone, and if the doll she held had been a real baby with a real problem – born to a drug-addicted mother – the heartbreaking side effects would have dissolved fast, Hartley said.

These are babies who are overwhelmed by stimuli, making it a dramatic challenge to calm them down.

“A baby who is chronically fussy,” said Hartley, who uses her skill as a board-certified music therapist to comfort these innocent victims of our opioid crisis. “Like a colicky baby on steroids.”

According to Hartley, her specialized humming and touching and rocking techniques last summer at Elliot Hospital in Manchester helped soothe newborns suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The 10-week, school-funded program grew from the national addiction crisis, which is getting a lot of attention these days, with New Hampshire surfacing as a giant storyline in that attention.

So Hartley and her boss, music school founder and president Peggy Senter, have stepped up, front and center, creating a campaign of consciousness that they hope hospitals statewide will notice.

Their voices are passionate, voices that express disappointment that there are no programs here featuring full-time professionals with the credentials that Hartley has.

Her four-year college degree from Anna Maria College in Paxton, Mass., and 36-hour post-college training gives her an authoritarian voice in this matter.

This is a specialized skill, and it needs to be incorporated into the state’s mainstream care system, she said.

“We really only have a handful of board-certified musical therapists in our state,” Hartley said, “but if you go down to Massachusetts or Boston, in every one of those hospitals you’re going to find certified therapists on the staff.”

She continued: “If you go to the school district, you’re going to find a board musical therapist on staff, right along with a speech therapist and a school therapist, all together on the same team.”

It’s no surprise that Hartley, 27, uses music in her work. She has the arts in her blood. She played saxophone at Bow High School, sang in the chorus and played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, saying, “Big surprise, huh?”

It was a sarcastic reference to her small-town, wide-eyed naivete, emphasized by the knotted braid that draped down over her right shoulder.

Hartley’s trust, however, has also led to adventure and risk-taking: she hiked the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail alone, telling me, “You’re never really alone, and as you can tell, I’m a very social person, and I have no problem connecting with other people.”

And that includes babies. Especially babies who shake and scream and fidget after absorbing the drugs their mother has taken.

Hartley said the moms who have put their babies in danger fall into a wide classification, from the college educated to the teen who never returned to Elliot after dropping her baby off for Hartley’s multimodal stimulation.

“There are moms who would be getting high outside and then coming back inside,” Hartley said. “There are all different situations. I’m there to listen to the moms and listen to their needs. They’re not going to talk to social workers or doctors the same way they talk to me.”

That’s because music does more than soothe just the savage beast. Everyone can connect with music, on some level.

As Hartley noted, “When I walk in and say I’m a music therapist, the mom will say, ‘All right, cool, I love music.’ ”

Ideally, the mom will be there when Hartley begins her therapy. In this way, the baby gets relief while the parent obtains vital information.

The process includes gentle, slow humming, with Hartley’s eyes checking nearby monitors to gauge heart rate, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation levels. Once those numbers reach stable levels, she touches different areas – scalp, back, throat, arms, abdomen, legs, cheeks, forehead, nose, ears – before incorporating an exaggerated rocking motion.

The process, about 20 minutes, moves back to the start, the humming part, if the baby reverts back to crying or anything else associated with addictive behavior.

“I’ve never had a baby who could not go further along once I stopped and started again,” Hartley noted. “Maybe I have to stop and start again a few times before getting all the way through the sequence, but I get all the way through.”

And the result? According to Hartley, addicted babies who receive this sort of treatment are discharged from the hospital nearly 12 days earlier than those who don’t.

“And when you are speaking about this population and the cost it has on the hospital or state,” Hartley said, “to have 11 or 12 days shorter of a stay can really make a difference.”

All of which, Hartley hopes, means music therapy from a certified professional will evolve into a mainstream part of care for babies who suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“We’re trained to be receptive to baby signals,” Hartley said. “We’re used to working with parents and training parents, which is the most important part of this whole thing.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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