Babies born prematurely have to overcome a host of obstacles, but perhaps the most daunting is learning how to eat. Typically, a hospital will require that a baby gets off the IV or feeding tube before he or she can leave the neonatal intensive care unit. Enter PAL – the Pacifier Activated Lullaby device.
Invented by Florida State University professor Jayne Standley, the PAL works by rewarding a baby with soothing music every time he or she sucks on the pacifier.
“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,” Standley told FSU News. “PAL uses musical lullaby reinforcement to speed this process up, helping them feed sooner and leave the hospital sooner.”
Jenna Bollard, the Expressive Arts Therapies Manager at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, was inspired by Standley’s work. She incorporated the Pacifier Activated Lullaby device into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NCIU) Music Therapy program there.
“I was pulled toward Jayne’s research because of how profound the quantitative data is,” Bollard tells Parentology. “It demonstrates such beneficial outcomes as weight gain, relaxation, decreased hospital stay, and improved feeds, to name a few physical and physiological benefits.”
At UCLA Mattel, it isn’t just any lullaby that plays on the pacifier. It’s often a song written by the parents, working alongside one of the hospital’s music therapists. The tune is sung by the parents, as well.
“What I was the most interested in was how we could record the parents’ voices, which research shows to be most effective in promoting neurologic development,” Bollard says. “It’s a tangible way for parents to help their babies, and encourages bonding and healthy attachment.”
Does It Work?
Bollard and her colleagues conducted a study on the use of PAL at UCLA Mattel, and the results were promising. “70% of the premature babies who participated in the study demonstrated an increased average number of sucks within five minutes of the PAL session,” Bollard says.
In fact, the PAL proved to have healing powers beyond what it does for the infant. Parents, caregivers, and hospital staff often experience great emotional stress while working with a NICU child. The singing pacifier has a calming effect on adults, and it allows the parents to bond with their child even when they are separated by the plastic walls of the incubator.
“Parents have reported the songwriting process is cathartic,” Bollard says. “And many parents have expressed gratitude that their voices are being used when they themselves are unable to be at their baby’s bedside.”
The songs are sometimes an original melody, but many are written by way of lyric substitution. Bollard explains they borrow the melody from one of the parents’ favorite songs and replace the lyrics with personalized verses that carry special meaning for the family.
So, is there a particular tune that’s more popular among the parents than others?
Bollard says most parents prefer simple melodies they’re already familiar with, like “You Are My Sunshine” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
“But parents have also requested to recreate Beatles, Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder songs, to name a few.”