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Researchers: Special Pacifiers May Help Babies In NICU Learn To Eat Faster

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Premature babies face a lot of challenges, from breathing properly to growing. But you might be surprised to hear that they also need to learn how to eat.

As CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez reported Friday, researchers may have come up with a new way to help speed up the learning processes.

New research shows a special pacifier given to some preemies in the Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit helps train the newborns to eat on their own.

What makes the pacifier so special? It contains music devices that play songs recorded by the baby's mother, Gomez reported.

"One of the most difficult things for a baby to learn how to do - from a physiologic and neurological standpoint - is how to coordinate suck, swallow, and breathe. We take it for granted but it's actually a tremendously difficult skill to acquire," said study author Dr. Nathalie L. Maitre at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Previous studies have shown newborns react positively to their mother's voice. So researchers at Vanderbilt placed a sensor in the pacifiers.  When the babies sucked at just the right rate and strength, they were rewarded with their mother's voice, Gomez reported.

"Babies who had a pacifier activated music device with their mother's voice needed their feeding tubes one week less than babies in the other group," Maitre said.

The sooner a preemie can eat without a feeding tube, the sooner he or she can go home.

The study also found that babies who were given the music pacifiers had a lower risk of complications from the feeding tubes, Gomez reported.

Best of all, researches said parents, who often feel helpless in the NICU, get to play an active role in their child's growth and well-being.

Researchers also found those preemies practicing with the pacifier ate more frequently and developed a stronger sucking reflex. All of which leads to healthier babies with fewer complications.

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