Nurturing Your Premature Baby’s Suck Reflex: The Importance of Soothers in the NICU

Nurturing your premature baby's suck reflex

Nurturing your premature baby’s suck reflex is a crucial way you can help your baby to develop the skills they need to thrive. In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), caring for your premature baby comes with its own set of challenges and unfamiliar procedures. As a NICU parent, you may have questions about the use of soothers to help establish your baby’s suck reflex. In this article, we will delve into the reasons behind utilizing soothers in the NICU, how they aid in your baby’s sucking skill development, and why it is crucial for premature infants to learn how to suck. Additionally, we will address common concerns regarding soothers and reassure you that their use does not hinder breastfeeding success but can actually enhance the chances of successful breastfeeding.

Understanding the Importance of Suck Reflex in Premature Babies

The suck reflex is a vital skill that allows babies to draw milk from the breast or bottle. In full-term infants, this reflex typically develops around 36 to 37 weeks of gestation. However, premature babies may have underdeveloped suck reflexes due to their early arrival. Learning to suck and coordinate the sucking, swallowing, and breathing processes is essential for their growth, nutrition, and overall development.

The Role of Soothers in the NICU

In the NICU, soothers (also known as pacifiers or dummies) are often used as a tool to help premature babies develop their suck reflex. Soothers provide non-nutritive sucking, allowing infants to practice and strengthen their sucking skills without the need for milk intake. Here’s why soothers are commonly used in the NICU:

Promoting oral skills

Soothers offer a source of stimulation and exercise for the oral muscles, helping premature babies learn how to coordinate their suck, swallow, and breathe effectively.

Non-nutritive sucking

Non-nutritive sucking allows babies to practice sucking without the added pressure of feeding, which can be challenging for premature infants who are still developing their sucking abilities.

Calming and comforting

Soothers provide comfort and help soothe premature babies, giving them a sense of security during their time in the NICU.

Enhancing breastfeeding success

Contrary to common misconceptions, the use of soothers and non-nutritive sucking in the NICU does not hinder breastfeeding success. In fact, it can increase the chances of successful breastfeeding. Here’s why:

Building sucking skills

Soothers help premature babies develop and strengthen their sucking skills, making it easier for them to latch onto the breast and effectively extract milk.

Nipple familiarity

Using soothers can help premature infants become familiar with the sensation of sucking on a nipple, making the transition to breastfeeding smoother.

Decreasing feeding stress

By allowing babies to practice sucking without the pressure of feeding, soothers help reduce stress during feeding times, creating a more relaxed environment for both the baby and the breastfeeding mother.

Reassurance for Parents

As a parent, it’s natural to have concerns about introducing a soother to your premature baby. However, rest assured that the use of soothers in the NICU is a carefully considered practice. Here are some key points to reassure you as a parent:

Individualised approach

The decision to introduce a soother is based on your baby’s unique needs and the guidance of the healthcare professionals in the NICU. Their expertise ensures that your baby’s overall development and well-being are prioritized.

Temporary measure

The use of soothers in the NICU is usually a temporary measure. It’s use it to help your baby develop their sucking skills. As your baby grows stronger and matures, the need for soothers will decrease.

Support for breastfeeding

Soothers are used in conjunction with breastfeeding, not as a substitute. They are a practical way of nurturing your premature baby’s suck reflex. The aim is to assist premature babies in developing the necessary skills to breastfeed successfully.

The use of soothers in the NICU plays a vital role in supporting your premature baby’s oral development. As well as the establishment of their suck reflex. Soothers provide a safe and effective way for infants to practice sucking and prepare for successful breastfeeding. As parents, trust in the expertise of the NICU team. Be reassured that the use of soothers does not hinder breastfeeding. Instead, it enhances the chances of successful breastfeeding in the long run. Working in collaboration with healthcare professionals, you can support your premature baby’s feeding journey.

For expert help feeding your premature baby, download Parent Sense. It’s the all-in-one app that allows you to book a virtual consultation with a qualified lactation consultant.


Meg faure

Meg Faure

Hi, I’m Meg Faure. I am an Occupational Therapist and the founder of Parent Sense. My ‘why’ is to support parents like you and help you to make the most of your parenting journey. Over the last 25 years, I’ve worked with thousands of babies, and I’ve come to understand that what works for fussy babies works just as well for all babies, worldwide.