Some 500,000 of babies born in the US each year are premature. Unlike full-term babies who can eat on their own right away, they need to learn how to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing so they can breast or bottle feed instead of receiving nourishment through a feeding tube or intravenously. The Pacifier Activated Lullaby System, or PAL, was invented to assist premature babies learn the motor skills used in breast or bottle feeding.

The West Virginia University music therapy program wishes to bring this system to J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital and WVU Medicine Children’s in Morgantown. A fundraising effort has been established with the goal of raising at least $5,000, which would support the purchase of one PAL® unit and 20 sensors and provide help for approximately 60 infants in the WVU Medicine Children's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

“Music immediately makes a human connection; it was a part of our culture long before language was,” Amy Rodgers Smith, M.M.T., assistant professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Therapy and the university’s first healthcare-focused music therapist. “I want nothing more than my friends, family and neighbors to have access to this in our community.”

The PAL teaches premature babies how to properly coordinate these feeding skills while strengthening needed muscles in the mouth and throat and can be adjusted to individual needs. The baby sucks on the pacifier, and when he or she does so correctly, the pacifier sends a signal to a speaker that rewards their efforts by playing lullabies. The speaker has an LCD screen so medical personnel and parents can monitor progress. It also has a sealed case for easy cleaning and infection control.

Research has shown using PAL that infants:

  • Can increase sucking pressure
  • Are able to take more oral feedings a day
  • Have a greater intake per minute and a higher total oral intake per day
  • Have an earlier transition to full oral feedings
  • Get discharged from the hospital earlier

Each sensor (1) lasts 4 hours. The minimum session time for an infant is 15 minutes and it takes an average of 5 sessions per baby to suck effectively enough to feed. On average, each infant will take a minimum of 1/3 of each sensor's time (1 hour 15 minutes).

For more information and to help support WVU’s babies, please visit Advancing WVU’s fundraising page.