Using non-nutritive sucking to support feeding development for premature infants: A commentary on approaches and current practice

J Pediatr Rehabil Med. 2018;11(3):147-152. doi: 10.3233/PRM-170442.


Non-nutritive sucking is often used with premature infants by either using a pacifier or an expressed breast nipple to support the introduction and development of early oral feeding. The pattern of non-nutritive sucking is distinct in that it involves two sucks per second in contrast to nutritive sucking which is one suck per second. Although some literature has identified that non-nutritive sucking has some benefit for the premature infant's feeding development, it is not entirely clear why such an approach is helpful as neurologically, activation of non-nutritive and nutritive skills are different. A summary is presented of the main approaches that use non-nutritive sucking with reference to the literature. This paper also considers other factors and beneficial approaches to managing the introduction of infant feeding. These are: the infant's toleration of enteral feeds pre oral trials, overall development and gestational age when introducing oral experiences, developing swallowing skills before sucking, physiological stability, health status, as well as the development and interpretation of infant oral readiness signs and early communication.

Keywords: Infant; communication; feeding; non-nutritive sucking; nutrition; premature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Enteral Nutrition
  • Humans
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature* / growth & development
  • Pacifiers*
  • Sucking Behavior*