Specially-Designed Pacifier Uses Music to Teach Premature Infants How to Feed
Parents’ Voice Singing a Lullaby Rewards Baby for Sucking
SAN FRANCISCO—Premature babies often lack a developed sucking reflex, leaving them unable to feed orally. And the inability to feed is a common reason new born babies remain hospitalized after birth. To help develop the sucking reflex more quickly, California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), part of Sutter Health’s not-for-profit network of care, is using a new device called a Pacifier-Activated Lullaby (PAL) in its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
According to CPMC’s music therapist Elisha Madsen, MME, MT-BC, recent studies show that about 70 percent of the premature infants who receive PAL treatment respond positively to it. They increase their ability to eat on their own, gain weight, and go home from the NICU earlier.
The PAL rewards and motivates babies to suck on a pacifier to help strengthen their sucking reflex. The special pacifier is attached to a sensor module that measures the strength of the baby’s sucking reflex. When the PAL detects that the baby has sucked on the pacifier to the predetermined strength, the baby earns a reward –a lullaby recorded by the baby’s own mom or dad.
Madsen explains that hearing their parent singing a lullaby motivates babies to continue sucking on the pacifier –which improves the sucking reflex. “Within two and a half minutes, she says, “most babies learn they will have to suck on the pacifier to receive their music reward.”
“It’s exciting for us at CPMC to be able to offer parents a direct role in their baby’s care where they are the reason the baby’s health is improving,” said Madsen. “Parents just light up when they see their baby responding to their singing voices and learn the skills they need to eat and go home. It is just precious to see this reaction.”