Background: Term infants are able to develop sucking behavior after birth. However, the requirements for this development have not yet been fully elucidated. In the present study, we investigated whether an oral-feed practice is necessary for the development of sucking behavior and whether non-nutritive sucking could support the development of this behavior while the infants cannot be fed.
Methods: Subjects of the present study were four term or near-term infants who had never been fed orally for approximately 2 months after birth because of gastrointestinal problems. Sucking pressure was measured with a silicone tube inserted into an artificial nipple and sucking efficiency was calculated during an entire feeding.
Results: Sucking pressure, frequency and duration at the first time oral feed corresponded to values obtained for normal-term infants at their first oral feed. Although infants who had not received oral feeding demonstrated poor sucking abilities initially, sucking performance improved with practice. Sucking parameters measured 1 month since oral feeding was initiated in these infants corresponded to values obtained for normal-term infants at 1 month of age. Although infants who had not received oral feeding had often sucked a pacifier for sedation, this non-nutritive sucking did not result in the development of sucking behavior.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate that an oral feeding practice is necessary for the development of sucking behavior and that non-nutritive sucking does not affect the development of sucking.