Objective Non-nutritive sucking (NNS) is one of the first coordinated muscular activities in the fetus. The NNS pattern of altering bursts of sucking and pauses in healthy preterm infants shows a gradual change with increased maturity. The purpose of this study was to examine if the NNS rhythm is affected in preterm infants with significant cerebral pathology and to investigate the correlation between the infants’ nutritive sucking ability and their NNS pattern.
Method A specially designed computer-based method that records, identifies, analyses and quantifies the pressure signals obtained from a pressure transducer inside a pacifier when the infants suck was used. Fifty-two preterm infants were included (gestational age median 27 + 4 weeks). Significant cerebral pathology was found in 14 infants. The NNS patterns from 214 recordings were analysed. The infants’ nutritive sucking ability was categorised according to the postmenstrual age when full oral feeding was accomplished.
Results A gradual change of the NNS pattern was seen with increased maturity; the infants’ sucking activity, duration of bursts, sucking frequency and frequency stability was increased. In the infants with known cerebral pathology a significantly reduced sucking frequency and a less stable frequency rhythm was observed. Delayed nutritive sucking ability was correlated with lower NNS sucking frequency and increased variability.
Conclusions In preterm infants with cerebral pathology the NNS rhythm is modified. The NNS rhythm is correlated with the infants’ oral nutritive sucking ability. The quantification of NNS pattern in neonates promises a valuable contribution to the diagnosis of neurological disturbances and nutritive sucking capacity.