Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders


Date of this Version



J Perinatol. 2014 February ; 34(2): 136–142.


Copyright 2014 Barlow et al.


Background—For the premature infant, extrauterine life is a pathological condition which greatly amplifies the challenges to the brain in establishing functional oromotor behaviors. The extent to which suck can be entrained using a synthetically patterned orocutaneous input to promote its development in preterm infants who manifest chronic lung disease is unknown.

Objective—To evaluate the effects of a frequency-modulated orocutaneous pulse train delivered through a pneumatically-charged pacifier capable of enhancing non-nutritive suck (NNS) activity in tube-fed premature infants.

Methods—A randomized trial to evaluate the efficacy of pneumatic orocutaneous stimulation 3x/day on NNS development and length of stay (LOS) in the NICU among 160 newborn infants distributed among 3 subpopulations, including healthy preterm infants (HI), respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), and chronic lung disease (CLD). Study infants received a regimen of orocutaneous pulse trains through a PULSED pressurized silicone pacifier or a SHAM control (blind pacifier) during gavage feeds for up to 10 days.

Results—Mixed modeling, adjusted for the infant’s gender, gestational age, postmenstrual age, and birth weight, was used to handle interdependency among repeated measures within subjects. A significant main effect for stimulation mode (SHAM pacifier vs PULSED orosensory) was found among preterm infants for NNS Bursts/minute (p=.003), NNS events/minute (p=.033), and for Total Oral Compressions/minute [NNS+nonNNS] (p=.016). Pairwise comparison of adjusted means using Bonferroni adjustment indicated RDS and CLD infants showed the most significant gains on these NNS performance indices. CLD infants in the treatment group showed significantly shorter LOS by an average of 2.5 days.