Mother's voice on special pacifier helps preemies learn to eat

by Serena Gordon, Healthday Reporter
Mother's voice on special pacifier helps preemies learn to eat
When properly sucking, baby is rewarded with a song from Mom, researchers say.

(HealthDay)—Premature babies often struggle to learn to eat. Now, a special pacifier that plays prerecorded songs seems to help speed the process along, researchers say.

When suck on this 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 in the hospital.

Results of the study were released online Feb. 17 in the journal Pediatrics.

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 story.

The researchers added the moms' voices because previous research has shown that "babies are very responsive to mother's voice," Maitre said.

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 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 . 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 group.

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 significance.

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.

More information: See more about the musical-pacifier experiment here.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New musical pacifier helps premature babies get healthy

May 21, 2012

Many premature babies enter the world with a mountain of challenges in front of them. Even after they overcome any life-threatening issues, they face ongoing, and typically unpleasant, medical procedures, long hospital stays ...

In-hospital formula use deters breastfeeding

Feb 14, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—When mothers feed their newborns formula in the hospital, they are less likely to fully breastfeed their babies in the second month of life and more likely to quit breastfeeding early, ...

Smart jacket for premature babies

Nov 13, 2013

Together with the Máxima Medical Center (MMC), Eindhoven University of Technology has developed a prototype wireless 'baby jacket' for very premature babies in intensive care units. The jacket, which includes monitoring ...

Recommended for you

Helping babies survive

Nov 21, 2014

A healthy baby is born in the Haydom Lutheran Hospital in Tanzania. She is given the name Precious and her proud mother is ready to take her back to the village. Many children born in the same hospital, or ...

Unstable child care can affect children by age four

Nov 20, 2014

A new study from UNC's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) reveals that disruptions in child care negatively affect children's social development as early as age 4. However, the study also ...

Parental involvement still essential in secondary school

Nov 20, 2014

Although students become more independent as they rise through grade levels and parent-teacher interactions typically lessen as students age, parental involvement in a child's education during the secondary ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.