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NICU nurse who developed special pacifier pushes for more babies to have access

May 04, 2015

In time for Mother’s Day, the nurse who developed the groundbreaking “preemie pacifiers” is asking the American Academy of Neonatal Nursing to make sure more babies to have access them. Harriet Miller, Ph.D, ARNP, is a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. After years of working around preemies she developed the special pacifier after noticing that the tiniest of her patients in the NICU did not have a voice.

“I could see everything that looked like crying. They were fidgeting, there were tears streaming down their faces and it was obvious they were upset, but these little babies just couldn’t make a sound,” said Miller.

Normally when a baby cries, whether it’s because they’re tired, scared or in pain, a pacifier will calm them down almost instantly. The problem with preemies is, they aren’t like normal babies.  “Most of them are intubated, which means they have tubes running down their throats to help them breathe and eat,” said Miller. “Those tubes make it impossible for the babies’ mouths to get suction on a normal pacifier, so as soon as you would put one in, it would fall right back out,” she said.

Unable to bear the thought that these tiny babies couldn’t find comfort, Miller invented a modified pacifier specifically for preemies. The nipple is smaller, the flanges are pliable and they are made with a small groove cut into the side, so they can sit next to the tubes in the baby’s mouth. With these specially modified pacifiers preemies can get suction and the satisfaction that comes with it.

In a study conducted by Miller at Orlando Health’s Center for Nursing Research she found that when preemies use this modified pacifier they are much calmer and show actual health benefits.

To see what kind of difference they make, Miller tested the pacifiers on 14 premature babies in the NICU at Winnie Palmer Hospital. “We have to draw blood quite often on these little babies through heel sticks,” she said.  “So, we measured their heart rates, blood oxygen levels and rated their pain index with and without the pacifiers.”

When they were allowed to use the pacifier for comfort, the heart rates of the preemies went down.  Their blood oxygen levels went up, which means they weren’t experiencing nearly as much stress, and their pain index dropped.

Today the pacifiers are available in most NICUs across the country. However, they are not available in other areas where intubated babies are treated, such as emergency rooms, ambulances and helicopters. Miller is now asking the American Academy of Neonatal Nursing to help make these special pacifiers available anywhere a baby might be intubated, so that these tiny patients can be soothed during emergency care.

To support the cause to make special pacifiers for preemies more widely available, please sign our petition below: