Researchers from Washington State University have developed a smart pacifier that can monitor newborn infants who are in the special care unit due to being born prematurely or other issues. While in the infant’s mouth, the pacifier will sample their saliva while monitoring their sodium and potassium levels. It will also send the information wirelessly to the child’s caregivers.

This device will be especially helpful for babies who are in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), as they are at higher risk of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Babies in intensive care often need bloodwork multiple times a day to monitor their condition, so this pacifier has the ability to reduce those bloodwork tests. Initial data from the studies have shown that the pacifier tracks closely with data from the blood tests, so the pacifier should be able to replace the bloodwork. In addition, the pacifier will monitor infants continuously, whereas bloodwork leaves a gap because it is generally done once in the morning and once in the evening. This pacifier looks and feels similar to regular pacifiers that are used in day-to-day life, but it includes small sensors that measure sodium and potassium, with this information then sent to caregivers via Bluetooth.

Remote patient monitoring devices such as this smart pacifier are becoming more prominent. A recent GlobalData poll shows that acceptance rates of remote patient monitoring devices have increased, as 66% of participants are more willing to use them. On the other hand, 17% are not as willing due to privacy concerns. Despite this, the remote patient monitoring market is set to reach $760m by 2030.

The smart pacifier has only been tested on a small sample of infants so far. Its developers hope to test it on a larger scale soon, and eventually make it an affordable and accessible device to make NICU care less disruptive for newborns.