Objectives: The aim of the study was to identify current infant feeding practices among carers of preterm infants.
Design: Structured interviews on milk and complementary feeding practices were conducted with mothers of preterm infants at intervals until infants were 12 months corrected age.
Setting: Recruitment took place in three local Surrey hospitals over a 2 y period.
Subjects: Two-hundred and fifty-three preterm infants (139 male, 114 female) including 33 sets of twins and three sets of triplets were recruited.
Results: Forty-nine percent of the preterm infant group received first solid foods (the commencement of 'weaning') before the current Department of Health (DoH) guideline. The mean+/-s.e.m. weaning age from birth was 17.1+/-0.23 weeks. Ninety-five percent of the infants were weaned before the DoH guideline when the data was examined from term (mean 11.5+/-s.e.m. 0.21 weeks). Twenty-one percent were weaned before the DoH guideline for preterm infants which is that 'the infant weighs at least 5 kg' (mean 5.61+/-s.e.m. 0.01 kg). Human milk-fed infants were significantly lighter at weaning than combined milk-fed infants (5.32+/-0.12 vs 5.72+/-0.01 kg; P<0.05) even though they were weaned at a similar age. Infant formula-fed infants (mean weaning age from term 10.2+/-0.47 weeks) were weaned significantly earlier than both human milk-fed (11.9+/-0.49 weeks; P<0.05) and combined milk-fed (11.9+/-0.25 weeks; P<0.005) infants.
Conclusions: The introduction of complementary foods varied widely between carers of preterm infants and compliance with DoH guidelines was poor. Further studies on preterm infants are necessary to see if weaning practices affect long-term growth and morbidity and to provide a basis for the development of appropriate recommendations.
Sponsorship: This work was funded by the MAFF Food Intolerance Programme.