Oral and respiratory control for preterm feeding

Barlow SM.

Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009 Jun;17(3):179-86. Review.



Feeding competency is a frequent and serious challenge to the neonatal intensive care unit survivors and to the physician-provider-parent teams. The urgency of effective assessment and intervention techniques is obviated to promote safe swallow, as attainment of oral feeding for the preterm infant/newborn is one of the prerequisites for hospital discharge. If left unresolved, feeding problems may persist into early childhood and may require management by pediatric gastroenterologists and feeding therapists. This review highlights studies aimed at understanding the motor control and development of nonnutritive and nutritive suck, swallow, and coordination with respiration in preterm populations.


Functional linkages between suck-swallow and swallow-respiration manifest transitional forms during late gestation and can be delayed or modified by sensory experience and/or disease processes. Moreover, brainstem central pattern generator (CPG) networks and their neuromuscular targets attain functional status at different rates, which ultimately influences cross-system interactions among individual CPGs. Entrainment of trigeminal primary afferents to activate the suck CPG is one example of a clinical intervention to prime cross-system interactions among ororhythmic pattern generating networks in the preterm and term infants.


The genesis of within-system CPG control for rate and amplitude scaling matures differentially for suck, mastication, swallow, and respiration. Cross-system interactions among these CPGs represent targets of opportunity for new interventions that optimize experience-dependent mechanisms to promote robust ororhythmic patterning and safe swallows among preterm infants.


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