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Vanderbilt study suggests hearing mother's lullaby aids preemies in feeding

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According to a study conducted by researchers from Vanderbilt University, an effective tool in helping premature babies learn to eat without a feeding tube lies in their mothers' voices. The research was conducted last summer, but the study's findings were published Monday in Pediatrics.

For the study, researchers tested 94 late preterm infants who were in stable condition and able to breathe on their own by using a form of intervention therapy involving a music player activated by a pacifier.

If the infant is able to suck on the pacifier the correct way (which requires a good deal of energy for preemies), he or she is rewarded with a recording of his or her mother singing a simple lullaby. If they stopped, the music stopped as well. The babies in the intervention group received 15 minutes of the treatment for five days straight.

Music therapist Olena Chorna cited the simple melodies, small range of notes, and repetition in lullabies as factors that lend themselves well to the classical conditioning.

"This is where we can attempt to target those questions and find answers, whether this is effective or not," Chorna said in a video released by Vanderbilt about the study. Mom Tina Evans, whose twin girls participated in the study, also said her girls seemed to like the mixture of her voice with the happy tune.

The incentive of hearing their mother's voice, which is believed to make the babies work harder to correctly use the pacifier, appears to have a measurable effect. When comparing the progress of the babies who received the treatment to that of the control group, the babies in the intervention group had their feeding tubes removed and ate on their own at least one week sooner.

Neonatal researcher Dr. Nathalie Maitre called the difference of one week "huge." The improvement also translated to more frequent eating, better pacifier sucking skills, no signs of stress during feedings, and shorter stays in the NICU.

“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,” Maitre 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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