Early NICU discharge of very low birth weight infants: a critical review and analysis

Semin Neonatol. 2003 Apr;8(2):95-115. doi: 10.1016/S1084-2756(02)00219-1.


Early neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) discharge has been advocated for selected preterm infants to reduce both the adverse environment of prolonged hospital stay and to encourage earlier parental involvement by empowering parents to contribute to the ongoing care of their infant, and thereby reducing costs of care. Randomized trials and descriptive experiences of early discharge programs are critically reviewed over the last 30 years, and the key elements necessary for successful early discharge are reviewed and defined. Early discharge is clearly achievable for a large number of infants. Variations in neonatal care practices are reviewed since these variations have been documented to influence NICU stay. Management of apnea of prematurity and feeding practices is documented to significantly influence NICU length of stay, as is timing of discharge based on institutional factors. Developmentally centered care, use of nutritional supplements pre- and postdischarge, hearing screening programs, evaluation for retinopathy of prematurity, evaluation for apnea and bradycardia events, and cardiopulmonary stability while in a car seat all influence timing of discharge. Programs of early hospital discharge with home nursing and neonatologist support have been successful in lowering the length of NICU stay. However, trends in length of stay in NICUs indicate that for infants >750 g at birth over the last decade there have been insignificant reductions in length of hospital stay. Thus, because of the increase in the percentage of low birth weight infants in the US, there remain opportunities to improve on variations in care that will be translated to fewer NICU days in hospitals for selected infants. Several professional guidelines are summarized, and standards of care as related to discharge of premature infants are reviewed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Hospital Costs
  • Humans
  • Infant Welfare
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / diagnosis
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / therapy*
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal / standards*
  • Length of Stay*
  • Male
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Discharge / standards*
  • Patient Discharge / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Prognosis
  • United States