Research Corner: Developmental Trajectory of Long-term Oral Feeding Problems in ‘Healthy’ Preterm Infants

Robinson, L., Heng, L., & Fucile, S. (2022). Investigating the Developmental Trajectory of Long-term Oral Feeding Problems in ‘Healthy’ Preterm Infants. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 1-5.


Purpose: To investigate the occurrence of oral feeding problems in preterm infants up to one year after hospital discharge

Methods: Thirty-six infants born<34 weeks’ gestation were enrolled in a prospective exploratory      longitudinal pilot study prior to hospital discharge. Parents of eligible infants completed telephone questionnaires at 3, 6, and 12 months corrected gestational age. The occurrence and type of feeding problems; medical problems; and rehabilitation services received were collected.

Results: A total of 26 (72.2%) parents responded, with 11 (42%) identifying feeding problems that developed within the first year of life. Avoidant behavior (including crying, agitated/fussy, and refusing to eat) was the most common feeding problem that occurred.

Conclusion: Feeding problems in ‘healthy’ preterm infants may occur at any point in development within the first year of life. Increased screening after hospitalization is needed for early identification and to make appropriate referrals in a timely manner to prevent and/or reduce the severity of long-term feeding problems

Implications for Practice The findings from this study are clinically significant because many ‘healthy’ preterm infants in particular, those born >29 weeks’ gestation, are often discharged from the hospital without specialized follow-up and are not monitored closely for feeding issues by their primary care provider until the problems become clinically significant. Moreover, feeding is reported as a main concern for families of preterm infants following discharge from the NICU and is a major cause for emergency room visits and hospital readmissions to one year after discharge from the NICU. Hence, given the increased susceptibility of all preterm infants to encounter oral feeding problems beyond hospitalization, parental education and counseling should be provided prior to hospital discharge, and infants should continue to be screened and assessed post-discharge

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