PURPOSE : To identify symptoms of oropharyngeal dysphagia (OPD) in breastfeeding neonates with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) on therapeutic hypothermia (TH). Early identification of feeding problems in neonates with HIE by speech-language therapists (SLTs) may prevent secondary complications of OPD such as aspiration pneumonia and death. MATERIALS AND MATHODS : Twenty-eight full-term neonates with HIE (mean chronological age = 4.5 days) and 30 healthy term controls were prospectively recruited for this case–control study. Participants with HIE (mild [n = 15], moderate [n = 11], severe [n = 2]), diagnosed by pediatricians, received whole-body TH. Feeding was clinically evaluated by an SLT using the Preterm Infant Breastfeeding Behavior Scale.
RESULTS : Twenty-five neonates (89.2%) had at least one symptom of OPD. Falling asleep during feeding, noticeable oral secretions, coughing, and flaring nostrils were symptoms of OPD most frequently identified. The HIE group displayed limited arousal during breastfeeding and had less obvious rooting, shallower latching onto the breast, and more single sucks in comparison to term newborns. The HIE group had significantly more closed eyes and minimal movement during breastfeeding, while controls showed the quiet-alert state ideal for breastfeeding. CONCLUSIONS : OPD was identified in the majority of infants with HIE. Underlying the appearance of an inactive neonate with HIE may be OPD that could be overlooked if not investigated. Interprofessional collaboration between SLTs, pediatricians and nurses to determine feeding-readiness is imperative. SLTs may assist in decision-making to improve safety of breastfeeding in this population. This study contributes to the small body of research on early breastfeeding of neonates with HIE.