Objective: To assess whether an oral stimulation program, before the introduction of oral feeding, enhances the oral feeding performance of preterm infants born between 26 and 29 weeks' gestational age.
Study design: Preterm infants (n = 32) were randomized into an experimental and control group. Infants in the experimental group received an oral stimulation program consisting of stimulation of the oral structures for 15 minutes. Infants in the control group received a sham stimulation program. Both were administered once per day for 10 consecutive days, 48 hours after discontinuation of nasal continuous positive air pressure.
Results: Independent oral feeding was attained significantly earlier in the experimental group than the control group, 11 +/- 4 days (mean +/- SD) versus 18 +/- 7 days, respectively (P =.005). Overall intake and rate of milk transfer were significantly greater over time in the experimental group than the control group (P =.0002 and.046, respectively). There was no difference in length of hospital stay between the 2 groups.
Conclusion: An early oral stimulation program accelerates the transition to full oral feedings in preterm infants. This was associated with greater overall intake and rate of milk transfer observed in the experimental group when compared with the control group.