Non-nutritive swallowing occurs frequently during sleep in infants and is vital for fluid clearance and airway protection. Swallowing has also been shown to be associated with prolonged apnea in some clinical populations. What is not known is whether swallowing contributes to apnea or may instead help resolve these clinically significant events. We studied the temporal relationships between swallowing, respiratory pauses and arousal in six preterm infants at term using multi-channel polysomnography and a pharyngeal pressure transducer. Results revealed that swallows occurred more frequently during respiratory pauses and arousal than during control periods. They did not trigger the respiratory pause, however, as most swallows (66%) occurred after respiratory pause onset and were often tightly linked to arousal from sleep. Swallows not associated with respiratory pauses (other than the respiratory inhibition to accommodate swallowing) and arousal occurred consistently during the expiratory phase of the breathing cycle. Results suggest that swallowing and associated arousal serve an airway protective role during sleep and medically stable preterm infants exhibit the mature pattern of respiratory-swallowing coordination by the time they reach term.