Comparison of tongue muscle characteristics of preterm and full term infants during nutritive and nonnutritive sucking

G. J. Capilouto, T. Cunningham, E. Frederick, E. Dupont-Versteegden, N. Desai, T. A. Butterfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Background: Independent oral feeding requires coordination of suck, swallow and breathe and the lingual musculature plays a significant role in this coordinative action. However, clinical benchmarks of lingual function fundamental to successful feeding have not been explored. Aims: The present study tests our model for quantifying infant lingual force and size and compares the muscle measures of interest in two cohorts: healthy full-term infants (FT) (N= 5) and healthy preterm infants (PT) (N= 6). Method: Using an instrumented pacifier and bottle nipple, we determined the resultant compressive forces applied to the nipple by the tongue during nutritive (NS) and nonnutritive sucking (NNS). Muscle size was estimated from measures of posterior tongue thickness using ultrasonography. Results: After controlling for weight and post menstrual age, statistically significant differences were found between FT and PT infants beginning to feed for NNS frequency and NS tongue force. Clinically significant differences were detected for NNS tongue force and posterior tongue thickness. Additionally, PT infants demonstrated a significant difference in mean tongue force between NS and NNS and FT infants did not. FT infants demonstrated a significant difference in mean frequency between NS and NNS and PT infants did not. Linear regression indicated that mean posterior tongue thickness alone predicted 55% of the variance in NS force. Conclusions: Results demonstrate the feasibility of our approach and suggest that infant tongue muscle characteristics necessary for successful feeding differ between healthy full term infants and preterm infants who are beginning oral feeding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-445
Number of pages11
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Collection of pilot data were made possible with a grant from the Kentucky Science and Engineering Foundation (KSEF) under Grant/Award Agreement # 148-502-10-260 with the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation. KSEF had no role in study design, collection, analyses and/or interpretation of data, writing of the manuscript or the decision to submit the manuscript. The authors thank the participants of this pilot investigation and clinical pediatric radiologist Dr. Harigovenda Challa for his expertise in developing the methodology for collection/measurement of ultrasound data.


  • Infant feeding
  • Preterm infants
  • Tongue force

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Comparison of tongue muscle characteristics of preterm and full term infants during nutritive and nonnutritive sucking'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this