Research Corner: Swallowing Biomechanics in Infants with Feeding Difficulties

Variability in Swallowing Biomechanics in Infants with Feeding Difficulties: A Videofluoroscopic Analysis by Laura Fuller, Anna Miles, Isuru Dharmarathn, Jacqui Allen1 (2022) Dysphagia – published online March 2022

This just published paper adds to our evidence and understanding about the dynamic infant swallow.


Clinicians performing feeding evaluations in infants often report swallow variability or inconsistency as concerning. However, little is known about whether this represents pathological incoordination or normal physiologic variance in a developing child. Our retrospective study explored quantitative videofluoroscopic measures in 50 bottle-fed infants (0–9 months) referred
with feeding concerns. Our research questions were as follows: Is it possible to assess swallow to swallow variability in an infant with feeding concerns, is there variability in pharyngeal timing and displacement in infants referred for videofluoroscopy, and is variability associated with aspiration risk? Measures were taken from a mid-feed, 20-s loop recorded at 30 frames per second. Each swallow within the 20-s loop (n=349 swallows) was analysed using quantitative digital measures of timing, displacement and coordination (Swallowtail™). Two blinded raters measured all swallows with strong inter-rater reliability (ICC .78). Swallow frequency, suck-swallow ratio, residue and aspiration were also rated. Variability in timing and displacement was identified across all infants but did not correlate with aspiration (p>.05). Sixteen infants (32%) aspirated. Across the cohort, swallow frequency varied from 1 to 15 within the 20-s loops; suck-swallow ratios varied from 1:1
to 6:1. Within-infant variability in suck-swallow ratios was associated with higher penetration-aspiration scores (p<.001). In conclusion, pharyngeal timing and displacement variability is present in infants referred with feeding difficulties but does not correlate with aspiration. Suck-swallow ratio variability, however, is an important risk factor for aspiration that can be
observed at bedside without radiation. These objective measures provide insight into infant swallowing biomechanics and deserve further exploration for their clinical applicability.

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