Development of infant oral feeding skills: what do we know?1–3

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Abstract

The hospital discharge of premature infants in neonatal intensive care units is often delayed due to their inability to feed by mouth safely and competently. With immature physiologic functions, infants born prematurely cannot be expected to readily feed by mouth at the equivalent age of a third trimester of gestation as the majority of their term counterparts do. Consequently, it is crucial that health care professionals gain an adequate knowledge of the development of preterm infants’ oral feeding skills so as to optimize their safety and competency as they transition to oral feeding. With a greater sensitivity toward their immature skills, we can offer these infants a safer and smoother transition to independent oral feeding than is currently observed. This review article is an overview of the evidence-based research undertaken over the past 2 decades on the development of very-low-birth-weight infants’ oral feeding skills. The description of the different functional levels where these infants can encounter hurdles may assist caregivers in identifying a potential cause or causes for their individual patients’ oral feeding difficulties.

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