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Music project bringing harp and harmony to mother and baby unit

03 Sep 2022 4 minute read
Harpist, Bethan Semmens, image by SBUHB

Swansea Bay University Health Board has launched an initiative aimed at using music to improve the mental and emotional well-being of new mothers and strengthen the bond between them and their babies.

At the Uned Gobaith (Unit of Hope), located in the grounds of Tonna Hospital in Neath, harpist, Bethan Semmens visits once a week to play for its mums and their babies.

The unit, which cares for new mums who experience a wide range of mental illness including postpartum psychosis, depression, anxiety and OCD, claims the sessions have a therapeutic effect, calming the babies and promoting the mums’ well-being.

The venture grew out of an approach from a collaboration with Live Music Now on The Lullaby Project which brought new mothers together, many of whom had been supported by the Unit at Tonna, to write and perform songs for their babies.

The project was so popular and successful, that the team decided to bring in a harpist to see what effect that would have on the well-being of the mothers and their babies in the unit.

Live Music Now was established in 1977 by violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin to support young musicians and at the same time reach those in the community who had least opportunity to experience the joy and benefits of being involved in live performance.

Positive effect

The project is overseen by Swansea Bay’s music and health facilitator, Iori Haugen, in a role which is funded by Arts Council Wales.

Mr Haugen said: “We have Bethan come in and perform for us once a week. The marked difference in mental health is massive. We have babies who may be really agitated and cause a lot of stress for the mother as well, but when the harpist is in there the baby completely calms down, which obviously gives the mother a bit of respite as well.

“For a good while now it has been biologically proven that singing and music have a huge benefit on people’s well-being. For example people notice a marked difference in cortisone levels, which is stress hormone reducing. It has a real positive effect.”

As part of the primary care team which supports GPs to consider prescribing singing, drama or dance instead of antidepressants, and is keen to extend the practice.

He said: My role, funded by the Arts Council of Wales, is to ensure that music is being used in the health board to boost the health and well-being of patients and staff.

“Besides Tonna, I’m working with Cefn Coed Hospital and ward F in Neath Port Talbot, as a pilot project where we’re providing musicians on the wards once a week, with the aim of then creating a service that we can roll out across the health board.

“We’re looking at several aims, does it reduce falls prevention, does it improve the well-being and mental health of patients and staff, and does it reduce the length of stay? Therefore, does it then save the NHS money?”

Special moments

Harpist Bethan Semmens said: “I come along once a week to play for the mothers and babies but we like to get them involved in the sessions as much as possible. We want to help them bond with their child. For example, through singing to them. It’s a special moment and a good way of connecting with your child.

“Often we find that while you are playing the babies calm down immediately. They become calm and happy. It’s more difficult to tell with the mums because they must have a lot on their minds but some of them are very chatty and very appreciative. I’m sure they all are but some show it more than others. They always say ‘My child was calm after you left’ and things like that.

“As a musician it’s hugely rewarding; you can see the effects in front of your eyes.”

Ward manager, Jenna Badman said: “You can definitely see the benefits within the mums, through how engaging they are with their babies during that time. It’s a nice relaxing atmosphere on the ward. The mums are able to engage with their babies in a stress-free manner. The babies are definitely smiling so I think something is going on.”

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