Background: The nutritional requirements of prematurely born infants are different from those of babies born at term. Inadequate or inappropriate dietary intake in the neonatal period may have long term adverse consequences on neurodevelopmental function. The late effect of neonatal sodium deficiency or repletion in the premature human infant on neurological development and function has not been examined, despite evidence in animals of a serious adverse effect of salt deprivation on growth of the central nervous system.
Methods: Thirty seven of 46 children who had been born prematurely (gestational age of 33 weeks or less) and allocated to diets containing 1-1.5 mmol sodium/day (unsupplemented) or 4-5 mmol sodium/day (supplemented) from the 4th to the 14th postnatal day were recalled at the age of 10-13 years. Detailed studies of neurodevelopmental performance were made, including motor function and assessment of intelligence (IQ), memory and learning, language and executive skills, and behaviour. Sixteen of the children were found to have been in the supplemented group and 21 in the unsupplemented group.
Results: Children who had been in the supplemented group performed better in all modalities tested than those from the unsupplemented group. The differences were statistically significant (analysis of variance) for motor function, performance IQ, the general memory index, and behaviour as assessed by the children's parents. The supplemented children outperformed the unsupplemented controls by 10% in all three components of the memory and learning tests (difference not significant but p < 0.1 for each) and in language function (p < 0.05 for object naming) and educational attainment (p < 0.05 for arithmetic age).
Conclusion: Infants born at or before 33 weeks gestation require a higher sodium intake in the first two weeks of postnatal life than those born at or near term, and failure to provide such an intake (4-5 mmol/day) may predispose to poor neurodevelopmental outcome in the second decade of life.