Background: Despite current nutritional strategies, premature infants remain at high risk for extrauterine growth restriction. The use of an exclusive human milk-based diet is associated with decreased incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), but concerns exist about infants achieving adequate growth. The objective of this study was to evaluate growth velocities and incidence of extrauterine growth restriction in infants ≤ 1250 grams (g) birth weight (BW) receiving an exclusive human milk-based diet with early and rapid advancement of fortification using a donor human milk derived fortifier.
Methods: In a single center, prospective observational cohort study, preterm infants weighing ≤ 1250 g BW were fed an exclusive human milk-based diet until 34 weeks postmenstrual age. Human milk fortification with donor human milk derived fortifier was started at 60 mL/kg/d and advanced to provide 6 to 8 additional kilocalories per ounce (or 0.21 to 0.28 kilocalories per gram). Data for growth were compared to historical growth standards and previous human milk-fed cohorts.
Results: We consecutively evaluated 104 infants with mean gestational age of 27.6 ± 2.0 weeks and BW of 913 ± 181 g (mean ± standard deviation). Weight gain was 24.8 ± 5.4 g/kg/day with length 0.99 ± 0.23 cm/week and head circumference 0.72 ± 0.14 cm/week. There were 3 medical NEC cases and 1 surgical NEC case. 22 infants (21%) were small for gestational age at birth. Overall, 45 infants (43%) had extrauterine growth restriction. Weight velocity was affected by day of fortification (p = 0.005) and day of full feeds (p = 0.02). Our cohort had significantly greater growth in weight and length compared to previous entirely human milk-fed cohorts.
Conclusions: A feeding protocol for infants ≤ 1250 g BW providing an exclusive human milk-based diet with early and rapid advancement of fortification leads to growth meeting targeted standards with a low rate of extrauterine growth restriction. Consistent nutritional policies using this approach may be considered for this population.