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Early Hum Dev. 1999 Dec;56(2-3):185-204.

Night-time non-nutritive sucking in infants aged 1 to 5 months: relationship with infant state, breastfeeding, and bed-sharing versus room-sharing.

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Institute of Child Health, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Bristol, UK.



Epidemiological studies suggest that pacifier use may be protective against SIDS but little is known of the relationship between pacifier use and other forms of non-nutritive sucking (NNS) in infancy, or of patterns of NNS during the night, when most SIDS deaths occur. We report the first longitudinal study of NNS by direct overnight observations in healthy infants in a sleep laboratory.


Healthy, breast fed term infants (n = 10) were enrolled at birth, and sequential overnight polygraphic and infrared video recordings of infants with their mothers performed at monthly intervals from 1 to 5 months. Each month, mother baby pairs were randomized to 1 night bed-sharing (BN) then 1 room-sharing (RN), or vice versa. 'Episodes' of pacifier, own digit and mother's digit sucking (> 1 min) were identified and compared with state-matched control periods without sucking or feeding before and after each such episode.


329 episodes of NNS were identified in 749 h of video recording. The prevalence of pacifier sucking decreased with age, whilst digit sucking increased. Routine pacifier users rarely sucked their digits. There were temporal differences throughout the night in the distribution of different types of sucking and in infant state during and around sucking episodes. Sleeping in the 'non-routine' location was associated with a larger percentage of nights with sucking episodes and increased sleep latency. Bed sharing (routinely or on a given night) was associated with less sucking behavior and more breastfeeding. Non-nutritive sucking was not, however, associated with decreased total time breastfeeding per night or number of feeds per night.


Patterns of NNS during the night change with age and are affected by maternal proximity. Digit sucking has state modulating effects, and may be suppressed by pacifier use. Thus any benefits of pacifier use must be set against the potential loss of a self-directed ability to modulate state during the night, and possible shortening of breastfeeding duration.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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