Development of sucking rhythm in preterm infants

Maureen Hack, Michele Marie Estabrook, Steven S. Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


We studied the ontogeny and temporal organization of non-nutritive sucking during active sleep in 6 healthy preterm infants (mean birthweight 1.1 kg (range 0.8-1.3 kg) gestational age 28.6 weeks (range 26-30 w)) from 30 to 35 weeks of post-menstrual (PM) age. Recognizable rhythmical sucking bursts were recorded at 28 weeks in one infant and by 31-33 weeks in the others. Results were analyzed for the periods 30-31, 32-33 and 34-35 PM weeks. The number of bursts/min increased with age, while the duration of each burst was stable (mean 4.1 s). The pause between bursts decreased. Sucking pace within bursts increased with age which resulted in an increase in the overall rate of sucking. The coefficient of variation (CV) for intersuck time within bursts and for interburst time was computed to examine the stability of the sucking rhythm. For intersuck time the CV was relatively low and constant across ages. However, for interburst time CV was relatively large across ages. Thus, there appears to be a stability of the interburst sucking rhythm from 30 weeks of gestation, whereas the interburst rhythm is less regular. This documentation of temporal organization in sucking from 30 weeks is one of the earliest indications of an intrinsic rhythm in human behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-140
Number of pages8
JournalEarly Human Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 1985


  • preterm
  • rhythmicity
  • sucking


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