Objective. This study examined the effects of stroking and a perioral and intraoral prefeeding stimulation program on healthy, growing, preterm infants in a Level II special care nursery. Only infants without cardiac, gastrointestinal, or central nervous system problems were included in the study.
Method. Two groups of nine randomly assigned, medically stable preterm infants, born between 30 weeks and 34 weeks gestation, were selected for the study. All infants were introduced to nipple feeding at approximately 34 weeks postconceptual age. The infants in the control group received a 5-min stroking protocol before feeding; the infants in the experimental group received a 5-min stroking protocol in addition to a perioral and intraoral stimulation program.
Results. Compared with the control group, the experimental group had a decreased number of gavage feedings, greater weight gain, and fewer days of hospitalization. The experimental group also had higher scores on the Revised-Neonatal Oral Motor Assessment nutritive suck scale than the control group.
Conclusion. On a preliminary basis, the findings from this study establish the efficacy of occupational therapy in a Level II special care nursery for healthy, growing, preterm infants. Further, the specific treatment strategies conducted with the infants receiving the experimental procedures have also been preliminarily established as effective in enhancing the infants’ feeding skills, resulting in weight gain and decreased hospital stays as compared with their counterparts in the control group. However, our findings cannot be generalized to preterm infant populations who are at greater medical risk than the infants in our study because of the potentially hazardous effects that could result. Implications of the results for intervention programs and future research are discussed.