One of the myriad of hurdles premature babies must overcome after entering the world too soon is learning how to suck and feed. To address this problem and get premature babies feeding and out of the hospital sooner, Florida State University (FSU) professor Jayne Standley has developed a pacifier that provides musical reinforcement every time the baby sucks on it correctly.

“Unlike full-term infants, very premature babies come into the world lacking the neurologic ability to coordinate a suck/swallow/breathe response for oral feeding,” said Standley, Florida State’s Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Music Therapy. “The longer it takes them to learn this essential skill, the further behind in the growth process they fall.”

Standley’s Pacifier Activated Lullaby (PAL) device uses a specially wired pacifier and speaker to play a gentle, soothing lullaby when the infant sucks on it properly, encouraging them to continue with the sucking motion to ensure the lullaby continues. A pressure transducer system, relying on sensing, control and feedback algorithms integrated into the device, can be calibrated to individual babies to provide the lullaby feedback whenever the preset pressure criteria indicating correct sucking is met.

Studies conducted by Standley at several hospitals have shown that infants exposed to the musical reinforcement increase their sucking rates up to 2.5 times more than those who aren’t. The PAL has also been shown to reduce a premature infant’s hospital stay by an average of five days.

“It’s amazing to watch how much quicker our babies are able to learn the sucking motion after they have used PAL,” said Terry Stevens, a neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) nurse at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. “They are ready to eat sooner, they go home from the hospital earlier, they tolerate their feedings better; it’s just a phenomenal improvement overall.”

Standley first envisioned PAL over a decade ago and the device, which has undergone extensive testing and been approved by the FDA, is now being mass produced through a partnership between FSU and Powers Device Technologies Inc. The device is currently available to hospitals in the U.S. and will also be made available to parents in the near future.

Here's a short video showing the PAL device being used.