Objective: To compare the effects of continuous versus intermittent feedings on physical growth, gastrointestinal tolerance, and macronutrient retention in very low birth weight infants ( < 1500 gm).
Study design: Very low birth weight neonates stratified by birth weight were randomly assigned to either continuous (24-hour) or intermittent (every 3 hours) nasogastric feedings. Feedings with half-strength Similac Special Care formula were initiated between day 2 and 3 and were advanced isoenergetically to goal. Daily weights, volume/caloric intakes, weekly anthropometric and dynamic skin-fold thickness measurements, and data on feeding milestones and clinical complications were collected. Nitrogen, carbohydrate, and fat balance studies were performed on a subset of male subjects.
Results: Eighty-two neonates with birth weights between 750 and 1500 gm who were born between 27 and 34 weeks of gestation were randomly assigned to continuous (n = 42) and intermittent (n = 40) feeding groups. There were no significant differences in baseline demographics and severity of respiratory distress between groups. There were no significant differences in days to regain birth weight, days to full enteral feedings, days to discharge, and discharge anthropometric measurements between continuously fed and intermittently fed infants, both when evaluated together and according to 250 gm weight intervals. Retention rates of nitrogen, fat, total carbohydrate, and lactose were comparable in the continuously fed (n = 17) and intermittently fed (n = 13) male neonates. Very low birth weight neonates who were fed continuously did not have feeding-related complications.
Conclusion: Very low birth weight infants achieve similar growth and macronutrient retention rates and have comparable lengths of hospital stay whether they are fed with continuous or intermittent feedings.