Massage of Preemie's
Mouth Helps Them Eat
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -
Gently stroking the inside and outside of premature babies' mouths
before feeding helps them make the transition from a feeding tube
to drinking milk from a breast or bottle, new study findings show.
Furthermore, Dr. Chantal Lau of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston,
Texas and colleagues found that preemies who received a so-called
"oral stimulation program" during their first days of life were
able to take in more milk--and more quickly--than those who did
not receive the stimulation.
Preterm babies often
have trouble taking in food because their early arrival has left
them with underdeveloped cardiovascular and respiratory systems,
and musculature around the mouth. And as Lau told Reuters Health,
in order to feed, babies need to coordinate their swallowing,
sucking and breathing.
"You are really asking
these babies to do three tasks, if you think about it, that they're
not ready for, because they're supposed to be in the womb," she
As a result, these infants
can have difficulties keeping milk from going into their lungs,
and may stop breathing while feeding. Because of this, very premature
babies spend the beginning days of their lives using a feeding
tube, which delivers nutrients directly to their stomachs.
But in order to leave
the hospital, premature babies eventually need to make the transition
from tube-feeding to bottle- or breast-feeding.
In a recent issue of
The Journal of Pediatrics, Lau and colleagues present the results
of an experiment testing an oral stimulation program on 32 preterm
babies born after only 26 to 29 weeks in the womb, designed to
help them develop their abilities to feed orally. Half of the
babies received the program, while the rest were given no intervention.
Around 15 to 30 minutes
before the infant received a tube-feeding, an adult would spend
12 minutes stroking the infant's cheeks, lips, gums and tongue,
then 3 minutes trying to get the infant to suck on a pacifier.
Premature babies received the program once a day for 10 minutes.
The researchers then
measured how long it took babies to transition from tube-feeding
to breast-feeding, and how much milk they took in during each
feeding session, and how quickly could they drank it.
Lau's team reports that
babies who received the oral stimulation program were able to
make the transition from tube to breast in 11 days, an achievement
which took the group who didn't receive the intervention an average
of 18 days. Babies given the program also took in more milk more
quickly than babies who did not receive any pre-feeding stimulation,
the authors add.
Both groups of preterm
infants had an equally long hospital stay.
In an interview with
Reuters Health, Lau explained that the stimulation program may
help babies to feed by showing them that things that touch their
mouths do not always hurt. Premature babies are subjected to many
tests and tubes early in life, she explained, all of which can
make them aversive to contact in and around their mouths--contact
that is needed for them to feed from a bottle or breast. Consequently,
gently stroking their mouths may help babies "unlearn" their fear
that touching around the mouth can hurt, she said.
"And then you try to
teach them--if you can, if you believe in learning--that the mouth
actually ought to be used for something else," Lau added.
Also, sucking may be
like playing sports, she noted--the more you do it, the better
you get. "The more he practices sucking and swallowing, maybe
the better he gets at it," Lau said.
SOURCE: The Journal of
Reference Source 89