Pacifier helps preemies eat

By Drum Digital
19 February 2014

The pacifier plays lullabies when they are sucked on correctly.

Singing and speaking in soothing tones has long been used as a way to pacify babies. This idea has been taken to a new level and is helping premature babies learn to eat, according to a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics.

“A baby who can’t eat can’t leave the hospital,” noted study author Dr Nathalie Maitre, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt and director of the neonatal intensive-care unit follow-up clinics at Vanderbilt University Children’s Hospital in Tennessee, the United States.

“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,” Maitre continued.

“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.”

Previous research indicated that using “mum voices” in the pacifier study would be effective as “babies are very responsive to mother’s voice,” said Maitre.

This theory was tested on almost 100 babies from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Monroe Carell Jr Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Each baby was given an FDA-approved pacifier featuring “special sensors”, and were “rewarded” with lullabies sung by their mothers when they sucked on the objects correctly and with enough strength.

Babies who used the pacifiers were taken off their feeding tubes about one week earlier than babies who were not given the devices. The “pacified” babies also increased their food intake, developed stronger sucking ability and indicated no signs of stress while using the pacifiers. They were able to graduate to oral feedings a week before babies who did not use the special pacifiers as well. Parents also enjoyed increased opportunity to bond with their newborns.

“It’s a way to empower parents to help their children,” said Maitre.


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