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Feeding growth restricted premature neonates: a challenging perspective

Siba Prosad Paul, Emily Natasha Kirkham, Katherine Amy Hawton, Paul Anthony Mannix.


Nutrition in the postnatal period is essential to achieve optimal growth and maintain biochemical normality. Feeding growth restricted premature neonates remains a big challenge for neonatologists. The choice of milk is one of the biggest challenges. Breast milk is recommended although feeding with preterm formulas can ensure a more consistent delivery of optimal levels of nutrients. The timing of introduction of feeds and the rate of advancement of those feeds in preterm infants are both topics of significant controversy.

Early feeding is advantageous because it improves the functional adaptation of the gastrointestinal tract and reduces the duration of total parenteral nutrition. A faster rate of advancement will also reduce the duration of parenteral nutrition. Despite this, enteral feeding is often delayed and is often slowly increased in high risk infants because of a possible increased risk of necrotising enterocolitis (NEC).

Growth restricted neonates are at increased risk of developing NEC due to a combination of antenatal and postnatal disturbances in gut perfusion. If enteral feeding is introduced earlier and advanced more quickly this may lead to increased risk of NEC, but slower feeds extends the duration of parenteral nutrition, and its risks, and may have adverse consequences for survival, growth and development.

Premature infants pose a significant nutritional challenge. Overall, we would suggest preferential use of human milk, early minimal enteral feeds and standardized feeding protocols with cautious advancements of feeds to facilitate gastrointestinal adaptation and reduce the risk of NEC, but further research is needed.

Key words: Small for gestational age; Absent or reversed end-diastolic flow velocities; Necrotizing enterocolitis; Breast milk; Total parenteral nutrition;

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