MONDAY, Feb. 17, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Premature babies often
struggle to learn to eat. Now, a special pacifier that plays
prerecorded songs seems to help speed the process along,
When babies suck on this pacifier properly, they are rewarded
with a song sung by their mother.
"Premature babies have to figure out how to coordinate sucking, swallowing their own saliva and breathing. It's an incredibly difficult task for babies, and it's tiring," said the study's senior author, Dr. Nathalie Maitre, director of the neonatal intensive-care unit follow-up clinics at Vanderbilt University Children's Hospital.
"Non-nutritive sucking [with a pacifier] has been used in neonatal intensive-care units for the past 10 years, and it helps babies' sucking improve," Maitre said.
But Maitre and her colleagues wanted to see if they could get
babies to learn to eat faster, because in many cases the inability
to eat well is the only thing keeping a premature baby in the
Results of the study were released online Feb. 17 in the journal
Maitre found a commercially available, FDA-approved pacifier
that contained a sensor to detect when the baby was sucking
properly and with enough strength to activate a prerecorded song or
The researchers added the moms' voices because previous research
has shown that "babies are very responsive to mother's voice,"
A music therapist had the mothers sing two songs in a specific,
repetitive way, using only one octave. "The music has to be
carefully calibrated so the brains of the preterm babies are
receptive to it," Maitre said.
The researchers included nearly 100 babies in the study. All
were between 34 and 35 weeks of gestational age, and were taking
less than half of their feedings orally. The rest were through a
feeding tube. Some of the babies had brain injuries.
About half of the babies were randomly assigned to the
musical-pacifier group, while the other half were in a "control"
group and did not receive the pacifier. Infants were offered
pacifiers for non-nutritive sucking before feeding times whenever
they were in a quiet but alert state, according to the study.
"Mom's voice is an excellent stimulant," Maitre said. "It only took the babies a day or two to learn that if they sucked with the right strength and the right pattern, they would be able to hear their mother's voice singing."
That reward helped the babies learn to coordinate all the
different tasks for successful eating, she said.
Babies given the musical pacifier ate twice as fast as the
babies in the control group. They also ate twice as much as the
babies in the control group. And they were able to graduate to oral
feedings exclusively a full week earlier than babies in the control
Weight gain, however, was similar for both groups, and although
the babies given the musical pacifier had 20 percent shorter
hospital stays, this finding didn't reach statistical
Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of neonatology at the Children's
Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City, said
feeding problems among premature babies are common, "especially in
the late preterm group who people tend to think of as not having as
many issues. But hospital stays may go beyond normal for some
infants because of difficulty with feeding."
"This study intervention was helpful, and reinforces the value of the maternal voice," Campbell said. "Having the mother's voice while baby was doing nonnutritive sucking did help babies achieve full nipple feeds faster."
"It didn't make a statistically significant difference in hospitalizations, but the babies did take more feedings in by mouth and they achieved full nipple feeding more quickly," she said.
Campbell said parents can also help by engaging more with babies
during feedings, and particularly by paying attention to feeding
cues and responding to those cues during feedings.
Would this device help soothe fussy full-term babies? Maitre
said it's not meant for the average baby.
Maitre has no connection to the company that produces the
responsive pacifiers, and she received no funding from the company
for the study.
See more about the musical-pacifier experiment
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