This Simple Device Can Help Premature Babies Have a Shorter NICU Stay, Researchers Say

It's been shown to help newborns develop early life skills.
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ByStephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Published
Feb 2019
Pacifier playing lullabies help premature babies develop feeding skills, researchers say.
Photo: Getty Images

Researchers at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital are testing a pacifier-activated lullaby (PAL) device, which plays parents’ recorded melodies whenever baby successfully sucks on the pacifier.

This isn’t the first time music therapy has been shown to improve conditions for newborns, specifically premature babies. An earlier study found infants born with respiratory distress or sepsis tend to do better while listening to sounds similar to their mothers heartbeat or hearing their parents sing a lullaby. Now, experts are saying these soothing sounds can also be used to promote feeding skills in premature babies.

Music therapists working in the NICU helped parents write and record a sweet lullaby, which played when baby sucked on the pacifier and stopped when they stopped sucking. One couple’s song of choice was a personalized version of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” You can listen to the tune here.

“Babies born before 34 weeks gestation often struggle to feed orally because they have not yet developed the reflex to suck, breathe and swallow,’’ Shelly Frisco, a nurse in the NICU at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, says. “With the PAL device, babies learn to feed faster and gain weight because they want to keep hearing their parents’ voices.”

Researchers say 70 percent of babies who use a PAL device improve their proficiency using a pacifier, which plays a part in feeding development. As a result, it promote shorter hospital stays and reduces stress when parents find themselves on the NICU after delivery.

“Giving parents a way to be part of their babies’ treatment helps them feel more bonded with their baby and gives them a very important role in their health and development,” Jenna Bollard, an expressive arts therapies manager at the hospital, says.

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