Background: Very premature infants fed by gavage are unable to regulate their own enteral intake. Therefore the rate at which feedings are advanced must be determined by caregivers. While advancing feedings too rapidly may increase the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, advancing feedings too slowly might result in undernutrition or prolonged hospital stay.
Objectives: For low-birth-weight premature infants receiving parenteral fluids, to assess the effect of different rates of advancement of enteral feedings beginning at the same age on measures of feeding tolerance and neonatal outcome.
Search strategy: Search strategies included a Medline search and a search of the Oxford Database of Perinatal Trials; additional references were sought in review articles, relevant chapters of textbooks, a previous systematic review, recent American Pediatric Society - Society for Pediatric Research abstracts, personal files, and personal communication.
Selection criteria: Only randomized or quasi-randomized trials were considered. Trials were included if premature low-birth-weight infants were studied and if the strategies being compared were different rates of advancement of feedings (accomplished by either differences in volume or concentration) with the onset of feedings at the same postnatal age in each group.
Data collection and analysis: The two reviewers reached consensus for inclusion of trials. Data regarding clinical outcomes were extracted and evaluated by the two reviewers independently of each other. Authors were contacted as needed and feasible to clarify or provide missing data. The specific data that were needed were requested in writing.
Main results: Among infants randomized to more rapid rates of advancement of feedings, there was an overall reduction in days to full enteral feeding and days to regain birth weight. There was no effect on necrotizing enterocolitis (relative risk = 0.90, 95% confidence interval = 0. 46-1.77).
Reviewer's conclusions: There are suggested advantages of more rapid rates of advancing feedings in premature low-birth-weight infants (shorter time to regain birth weight and shorter time to achieve full feedings). It is unclear whether this strategy should be adopted as routine practice because of limited information regarding safety (broad confidence intervals for the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis) and the effect on length of hospital stay (broad confidence intervals). Because different birth weight ranges and different rates of advancement were used in each of these studies, the ideal rate of advancement remains unclear, particularly for extremely-low-birth-weight infants.