One of the challenges with premature babies (or premmies) is they do not eat well but a special pacifier that can play the mother's pre-recorded voice, may help solve the problem.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics Feb. 17, researchers observed 94 babies who were between 34 and 36 weeks postmenstrual age, including those with brain injury, to find out whether or not using pacifier-activated music player (PAM) can improve the sucking ability and promote better oral feeding of preterm babies.

The researchers of Vanderbilt University divided the babies into two groups. The babies in the first group were assigned an FDA-approved pacifier that plays the mother's voice when the baby sucks correctly. The pre-recorded voice comes in simple repetitive songs that use a single octave to ensure they do not overwhelm the premature babies' developing brains: the study-approved lullabies "Hush Little Baby" and "Snuggle Puppy". Babies in the second group were not assigned the pacifier.

"The sensor in that pacifier only rewards if you are using it at just the right strength and the right rate," said Nathalie Maitre, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. "Really, it is teaching babies about patterns and how strong they need to be. It's just not a reward for sucking. It's a reward for sucking the right way."

The researchers found that the babies in the first group eventually ate twice as fast the babies in the second group. They were also able to have their feeding tubes removed one week earlier than the babies who were not assigned the special pacifier.

"A mother's voice is a powerful auditory cue," Maitre said. "Babies know and love their mother's voice. It has proven to be the perfect incentive to help motivate these babies."

The researchers also observed that babies in the first group developed stronger sucking ability and showed no signs of stress during pacifier sessions. The babies with severe brain injury benefited from the intervention as well. "We included babies with severe brain injury in this study," Maitre said. "We showed that the intervention worked well on them, too."

The researchers said that parents can help babies eat better by engaging with them during feeding. "The benefits are both medical and emotional as this is a unique way for parents to directly help their children learn a skill crucial to their growth and development," Maitre said. "It gives parents a small amount of control to improve their baby's medical course, in addition to giving them a bonding experience which will last throughout childhood."

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