The Infant Sucking Reflex

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Posted on 10th December 2010 by admin in Uncategorized

Thank goodness infants are born with several feeding reflexes.  Have you ever considered how difficult it would be to try and teach a newborn how to latch onto a nipple and suck out the milk?  I can’t even describe the action of this process adequately to adults let alone a brand new baby.  Fortunately, the ability to feed is instinctive and the reflex to suck is especially strong in infants.

The sucking reflex is the automatic process an infant performs to draw out milk from a bottle or breast.  It is first observed in utero as early as 15 to 18 weeks gestation.  Preterm babies born before 34 to 35 weeks gestational age have a harder time sustaining an effective feeding for long periods of time.  Preterm infants are especially susceptible to becoming fatigued and may need to be admitted into a hospital due to poor feeding.

Infants with a weak sucking reflex should be monitored closely to ensure that they are growing adequately.  An infant may need to supplement feedings with additional milk, preferably the mother’s pumped hindmilk.

A weak sucking reflex might indicate an immature central nervous system, prematurity, delayed maturation, harm caused by insults to the prenatal central nervous, or systemic congenital problems.

Most infants have an overwhelming need to suck on something regardless of hunger.  Babies who are not hungry will continue to eat just to satisfy their desire to suck and usually spit up whatever can not fit into the stomach.  A pacifier, a clean finger or baby’s own hand are good alternatives to the breast or bottle when the baby is not hungry.

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