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Pacifiers equipped with mom's voice may aid preemies' development

Doctors at Vanderbilt University have found that tweaking the traditional pacifier to play a mother’s voice can provided added benefits to premature babies.

Preemies that were given a special pacifier that played their mother singing a lullaby were shown to have better eating habits and have their feeding tubes removed earlier than other premature infants.  

 "A mother's voice is a powerful auditory cue," study author Dr. Nathalie Maitre, assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said in a press release. "Babies know and love their mother's voice. It has proven to be the perfect incentive to help motivate these babies."

}  Researchers enrolled 94 stable premature babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in the study. The babies were all 34 to 36 weeks post-menstrual age (which is a corrected age accounting for where a baby should be developmentally), and were breathing on their own.

About half of the babies received the modified pacifiers, while the other half got regular ones.

The special pacifiers contained speakers, sensors and a pre-recorded clip of mom singing either “Hush Little Baby” or “Snuggle Puppy.” The songs were chosen because they were simple, repetitive and were within one octave range, or easy enough for a baby to understand.

If the babies sucked on the special pacifier the correct way, the device would play their mother’s song. Once the sucking stopped, the mother’s voice would stop. The babies were given the pacifiers 15 minutes a day for five days in a row.

"The mothers were enthusiastic to join the study," Olena Chorna, a music therapist at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, said in a press release. "Some of the mothers were nervous to sing, but we found they were really grateful to be able to do something to help their babies."

The babies who got the special pacifiers had their feeding tubes removed on average a week earlier than those who had the regular ones. They also ate more frequently and had a stronger sucking ability, and did not show additional signs of stress when they were using the pacifier. They were also in the hospital for shorter periods of time than the other preemies.

Maitre pointed out there were benefits observed for the parents as well.

"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," she 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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Previous studies have shown that lullabies and music synchronized to the infant’s womb sounds can aid in a premature baby's feeding and sleeping development. Music has also been shown to help babies deal with the stress of the NICU, especially if they are too small to hold.

Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of neonatology at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, told HealthDay that feeding issues are a big problem for premature babies, especially in the late premature group like the babies in this study. People often think they don’t need as much help as newborn preemies do, she said.

"This study intervention was helpful, and reinforces the value of the maternal voice," Campbell said. "Having the mother's voice while baby was doing non-nutritive 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 added.

The study was published in Pediatrics on Feb. 18.

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