Maturation of oral feeding skills in preterm infants.

Publication Date



Acta Paediatr. 2008 January; 97(1): 61–67


Bottle Feeding, Child Development, Deglutition, Feeding Behavior, Female, Gestational Age, Humans, Infant, Newborn, Infant, Premature, Male, Respiration, Sucking Behavior, Time Factors


AIM: Safe and successful oral feeding requires proper maturation of sucking, swallowing and respiration. We hypothesized that oral feeding difficulties result from different temporal development of the musculatures implicated in these functions. METHODS: Sixteen medically stable preterm infants (26 to 29 weeks gestation, GA) were recruited. Specific feeding skills were monitored as indirect markers for the maturational process of oral feeding musculatures: rate of milk intake (mL/min); percent milk leakage (lip seal); sucking stage, rate (#/s) and suction/expression ratio; suction amplitude (mmHg), rate and slope (mmHg/s); sucking/swallowing ratio; percent occurrence of swallows at specific phases of respiration. Coefficients of variation (COV) were used as indices of functional stability. Infants, born at 26/27- and 28/29-week GA, were at similar postmenstrual ages (PMA) when taking 1-2 and 6-8 oral feedings per day. RESULTS: Over time, feeding efficiency and several skills improved, some decreased and others remained unchanged. Differences in COVs between the two GA groups demonstrated that, despite similar oral feeding outcomes, maturation levels of certain skills differed. CONCLUSIONS: Components of sucking, swallowing, respiration and their coordinated activity matured at different times and rates. Differences in functional stability of particular outcomes confirm that maturation levels depend on infants' gestational rather than PMA.


PMCID: PMC2289993