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Early Hum Dev. 1999 Jul;55(3):247-64.

The development of preterm infants' breastfeeding behavior.

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Department of Women's and Children's Health, University Children's Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden.


Extensive scientific data are available on the development of sucking in term infants, but corresponding knowledge about preterm infants has been lacking. The aim was to describe the development of preterm infants' behavior at the breast, according to postmenstrual and postnatal age. Mothers co-operated as data collectors using the Preterm Infant Breastfeeding Behavior Scale for observations. Seventy-one singletons (born after 26.7-35.9 gestational weeks) were studied prospectively. Mothers received regular advice about breastfeeding and guidance about interaction and appropriate stimulation. Breastfeeding was initiated at a postmenstrual age (PMA) of 27.9-35.9 weeks. Mothers provided 4321 records of infants' behavior, 70% of the total breastfeeding sessions during the infants' hospital stay. Irrespective of PMA, the infants responded by rooting and sucking on the first contact with the breast. Efficient rooting, areolar grasp and latching on were observed at 28 weeks, and repeated bursts of > or = 10 sucks and maximum bursts of > or = 30 sucks at 32 weeks. Nutritive sucking appeared from 30.6 weeks. Sixty-seven infants were breastfed at discharge. Fifty-seven of them established full breastfeeding at a mean PMA of 36.0 weeks (33.4-40.0 weeks). Their early sucking behavior is interpreted as the result of learning, enhanced by contingent stimuli. We therefore suggest that guidelines for initiation of breastfeeding in preterm infants should be based on cardiorespiratory stability, irrespective of current maturity, age or weight.

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