Feeding abilities in neonates with congenital heart disease: a retrospective study

J Perinatol. 2009 Feb;29(2):112-8. doi: 10.1038/jp.2008.136. Epub 2008 Sep 25.


Objective: An important area concerning morbidity among infants with congenital heart defects (CHD) is related to feeding problems. Our objectives were to characterize the evolution of feeding milestones related to transition to per oral feeding among infants with CHD, and to identify associated variables impacting the feeding abilities. Specifically, we differentiated the feeding characteristics in neonates with acyanotic vs cyanotic CHD.

Study design: Feeding progress was tracked during the first hospitalization in a retrospective chart review study involving 76 infants (29 acyanotic, 47 cyanotic CHD). The ages at which the following milestones attained were recorded: first feeds, maximum gavage feeds, first nipple feeds and maximum nipple feeds, in addition to the length of hospital stay. Effects of perinatal factors, duration of respiratory support, vasopressor and narcotic use and use of cardiopulmonary bypass on the feeding milestones were also evaluated. ANOVA, t-test, and stepwise linear regression analysis were applied as appropriate. Data stated as mean+/-s.e.m., or %; P<0.05 was considered significant.

Result: Prenatal and birth characteristics were similar (P=NS) between the neonates with acyanotic and cyanotic CHD. Cyanotic CHD required three times prolonged use of ventilation, narcotics and vasopressor use (all P<0.05, compared to the acyanotic group). In the acyanotic group, prolonged respiratory support correlated linearly with time to attain maximal gavage feeds and nippling (both, R2=0.8). In the cyanotic group, delayed initiation of gavage feeds and prolonged respiratory support both correlated linearly with time to attain maximal gavage feeds and nippling (both, R2=0.8). Age at first gavage feed correlated with maximum gavage feeds among neonates with cyanotic CHD, and first nipple feed correlated with maximum nipple feeds among all groups (P<0.01). Use of cardiopulmonary bypass in cyanotic CHD delayed the feeding milestones and prolonged the length of stay (both, P<0.05 vs non-bypass group); similar findings were not seen in the acyanotic group.

Conclusion: In contrast to neonates with acyanotic CHD, cyanotic CHD group had significant delays with (a) feeding readiness, (b) successful gastric feeding, (c) oromotor readiness and (d) successful oromotor skills. Co-morbid factors that may directly influence the delay in feeding milestones include the (a) duration of respiratory support and (b) use of cardiopulmonary bypass. Delays in achieving maximum gavage and maximum nippling may suggest foregut dysmotility and oropharyngeal dysphagia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Enteral Nutrition*
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / mortality
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies