Oral and nonoral sensorimotor interventions facilitate suck-swallow-respiration functions and their coordination in preterm infants

Early Hum Dev. 2012 Jun;88(6):345-50. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2011.09.007. Epub 2011 Sep 29.


Background: Preterm infants are at high risk of encountering oral feeding difficulties. Early sensorimotor interventions may improve oral feeding skills in preterm infants.

Aim: To further explore the effects of an oral (O), tactile/kinesthetic (T/K), and combined (O+T/K) sensorimotor intervention on preterm infants' nutritive sucking, swallowing and their coordination with respiration.

Study design: Seventy-five infants (29 [0.3, standard error of mean, SEM] weeks gestation, 49 males/26 females) were randomly assigned to an O group involving sensorimotor input to the oral structures; a T/K group involving sensorimotor input to the trunk and limbs; a combined (O+T/K) group; and a control group.

Outcome measures: Stage of sucking, suction and expression amplitudes (mmHg), suck-swallow ratio, stability of suck-swallow interval, and swallow-respiration patterns.

Results: The O group had significantly more advanced sucking stages, and greater suction and expression amplitudes than controls [p≤0.035, effect size (ES) >0.6]. The suck-swallow ratio and stability of suck-swallow intervals did not significantly differ among groups (p≥0.181, ES≤0.3). The three interventions led to fewer swallows bracketed by prolonged respiratory pauses compared to controls (pause-swallow-pause, p≤0.044, ES≥0.7). The T/K and combined (O+T/K) groups had greater occurrence of swallows bracketed by expiration than the control and O groups (expiration-swallow-expiration, p≤0.039, ES≥0.3).

Conclusion: The O intervention enhanced specific components of nutritive sucking. All three interventions resulted in improved swallow-respiration coordination. Sensorimotor interventions have distributed beneficial effects that go beyond the specific target of input.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bottle Feeding
  • Child, Preschool
  • Deglutition / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Infant, Premature / psychology
  • Male
  • Massage / methods*
  • Mouth
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Respiration*
  • Sucking Behavior / physiology*