A device invented by a Florida State University music therapy professor is helping premature babies go home with their families sooner. It's a singing pacifier called the Pacifier Activated Lullaby, or PAL, and it's debuting in hospitals across the country after almost two decades of research and development.
At the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital neonatal intensive care unit, a newborn baby is sucking on a pacifier that’s attached by a tube to a white rectangular box. Music therapist Brianna Negrete is holding the box near the baby’s head. And the box is singing.
“We’ve learned through research that music is very reinforcing. So when little one sucks, it gets reinforced with 10 seconds of music. And that’s been shown, compared to silence, they will suck so much more," Negrete said.
Over time, the baby learns that he is rewarded for sucking on the pacifier, and that skill translates to feeding time.
FSU music therapy professor and PAL inventor, Dr. Jayne Standley, said, “Often it’s the last thing that the hospital is waiting for a baby to achieve, this skill. It’s very hard to teach a baby how to suck because it happens inside the mouth. You can’t show the baby how to do it."
The device is the culmination of 16 years of her research.
“It can take weeks to try to get a baby to do this. And the PAL seems to help within about 15 minutes, to help a baby learn to do this skill," she said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the PAL as a medical feeding device. And Florida-based Powers Device Technologies recently began manufacturing and selling it.
Standley said, having just one device in a neonatal unit can be a huge cost saver for hospitals and families.
She said, “Babies go home an average of five days sooner at a cost of $2,000 per day. On average, in the U.S., that’s a savings of $10,000 per baby.”
The device comes with about 15 lullabies designed not only to teach a baby to suck but also help with language development. And, now that the PAL is available in the U.S., Standley said, she has more plans: "Locating traditional lullabies in all the languages of the world and recording them so that a baby from, say, Japan, would have a selection of Japanese lullabies.”
She says, the new foreign-language lullabies would be stored on the FSU College of Music website and would be available for download for anyone who buys a PAL, anywhere in the world.