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Barlow SM, Liao C, Lee J, Kim S, Maron JL, Song D, Jegatheesan P, Govindaswami B, Wilson BJ, Bhakta K, Cleary JP. Spectral features of non-nutritive suck dynamics in extremely preterm infants. Pediatr Med 2023;6:23.


Open access.


Background: Non-nutritive suck (NNS) is used to promote ororhythmic patterning and assess oral feeding readiness in preterm infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). While time domain measures of NNS are available in real time at cribside, our understanding of suck pattern generation in the frequency domain is limited. The aim of this study is to model the development of NNS in the frequency domain using Fourier and machine learning (ML) techniques in extremely preterm infants (EPIs).

Methods: A total of 117 EPIs were randomized to a pulsed or sham orocutaneous intervention during tube feedings 3 times/day for 4 weeks, beginning at 30 weeks post-menstrual age (PMA). Infants were assessed 3 times/week for NNS dynamics until they attained 100% oral feeding or NICU discharge. Digitized NNS signals were processed in the frequency domain using two transforms, including the Welch power spectral density (PSD) method, and the Yule-Walker PSD method. Data analysis proceeded in two stages. Stage 1: ML longitudinal cluster analysis was conducted to identify groups (classes) of infants, each showing a unique pattern of change in Welch and Yule-Walker calculations during the interventions. Stage 2: linear mixed modeling (LMM) was performed for the Welch and Yule-Walker dependent variables to examine the effects of gestationally-aged (GA), PMA, sex (male, female), patient type [respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)], treatment (NTrainer, Sham), intervention phase [1, 2, 3], cluster class, and phase-by-class interaction.

Results: ML of Welch PSD method and Yule-Walker PSD method measures revealed three membership classes of NNS growth patterns. The dependent measures peak_Hz, PSD amplitude, and area under the curve (AUC) are highly dependent on PMA, but show little relation to respiratory status (RDS, BPD) or somatosensory intervention. Thus, neural regulation of NNS in the frequency domain is significantly different for each identified cluster (classes A, B, C) during this developmental period.

Conclusions: Efforts to increase our knowledge of the evolution of the suck central pattern generator (sCPG) in preterm infants, including NNS rhythmogenesis will help us better understand the observed phenotypes of NNS production in both the frequency and time domains. Knowledge of those features of the NNS which are relatively invariant vs. other features which are modifiable by experience will likewise inform more effective treatment strategies in this fragile population.