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Preterm Breastfeeding Skills

Breastfeeding requires babies to be able to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing skills. While babies born at term can typically coordinate these skills, preterm babies have immature feeding skills. Preterm babies need to learn how to breastfeed and cannot be discharged from hospital until they can competently suck all of their feeds.

As mum is not always present in the hospital when the baby needs to be fed, breastfeeds may be supplemented by bottle feeds. Feeding from bottles with standard teats is quite different from breastfeeding as the standard teat does not require the baby to form a vacuum that is required to get milk out, like breastfeeding does.

To help preterm babies to develop their skills in creating this vacuum, we are conducting an experiment with a new teat, which requires babies to use this important sucking skill to remove milk. We hope that if we can assist preterm babies in developing their breastfeeding skills, they will be able to leave hospital sooner.

This study will:

  • Examine the development of suck-swallow-breathe coordination at different ages
  • Examine the development of suck-swallow-breathe coordination during breastfeeding compared to the standard bottle teat and the new bottle teat
  • Compare breastfeeding rates and duration between groups of babies using the standard teat versus the new teat

We acknowledge the support of Telethon and Medela AG in funding this study.

A feature article in The West Australian on a mum and baby who participated in this study.