Erythromycin fails to improve feeding outcome in feeding-intolerant preterm infants

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2003 Sep;37(3):281-6. doi: 10.1097/00005176-200309000-00015.


Objective: Approximately half of extremely low birth weight infants have feeding intolerance, which delays their achievement of full enteral feedings. Erythromycin, a motilin receptor agonist, triggers migrating motor complexes and accelerates gastric emptying in adults with feeding intolerance. Few studies have assessed the efficacy of this drug in preterm infants with established feeding intolerance. This study was designed to assess the efficacy of erythromycin in feeding-intolerant infants, as measured by gastric emptying, maturation of gastrointestinal motor patterns, and time to achieve full enteral feedings.

Methods: Subjects were 27 preterm infants who were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit and who did not achieve full enteral feeding volumes (150 mL/kg/day) within 8 days of the initiation of feedings. In a controlled, randomized, double-blinded clinical trial, infants received intragastric erythromycin or placebo for 8 days without crossover. At study entry, the authors recorded motor activity in the antrum and the duodenum during fasting, in response to intragastric erythromycin (1.5 mg/kg) or placebo, and in response to feeding. Gastric emptying at 20 minutes and transit time from duodenum to anus were determined. Each infant then received erythromycin or placebo for 8 days, and feeding characteristics were prospectively tracked.

Results: Gastric emptying and characteristics of antroduodenal motor contractions were similar in the two groups, as were the transit times from duodenum to anus. Feeding outcomes were comparable in the two groups.

Conclusion: Intragastric erythromycin does not improve feeding tolerance in preterm infants with established feeding intolerance because it fails to improve gastrointestinal function in the short or long term.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Eating / drug effects*
  • Enteral Nutrition
  • Erythromycin / pharmacology*
  • Erythromycin / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Gastric Emptying / drug effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / pharmacology*
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Infant Food
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Male
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Erythromycin