Fear of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) has perpetuated delayed initiation and slow advancement of enteral feeding in very low birth weight (VLBW) infants with inherent risks of parenteral alimentation. The objective of this study was to assess effect of early total enteral feeding (ETEF) on day of achievement of full enteral feeds, feed intolerance, NEC and sepsis.
In total, 208 stable VLBW neonates (28–34 weeks) admitted during 6 month periods of three consecutive years were enrolled. First phase (n = 73) constituted the ‘before’ phase with standard practice of initial intravenous fluid therapy and slow enteral feeding. The second prospective phase (n = 51) consisted of implementation of ETEF with infants receiving full enteral feeds as per day’s fluid requirement since Day 1 of life. The third phase (n = 84) was chosen to assess the sustainability of change in practice.
Day of achievement of full feeds was significantly earlier in Phases 2 and 3 compared with Phase 1 (8.97 and 5.47 vs. 14.44 days, respectively, p = 0.0001). Incidence of feed intolerance was comparable between Phases 1 and 2 (22 vs. 14%, p = 0.28), with marked reduction in incidence of NEC (14 vs. 4%, p = 0.028). There was a significant decrease in sepsis, duration of parenteral fluid and antibiotic therapy as well as hospital stay with comparable mortality.
In stable preterm VLBW infants, ETEF is safe and has the benefit of optimizing nutrition with decrease in sepsis, NEC and hospital stay.
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