BACKGROUND: Enteral feeding for very preterm or very low birth weight (VLBW) infants is often delayed for several days after birth due to concern that early introduction of feeding may not be tolerated and may increase the risk of necrotising enterocolitis. Concerns exist, however, that delaying enteral feeding may diminish the functional adaptation of the gastrointestinal tract and prolong the need for parenteral nutrition with its attendant infectious and metabolic risks.
OBJECTIVES: To determine the effects of delayed introduction of progressive enteral feeds on the risk of necrotising enterocolitis, mortality and other morbidities in very preterm or VLBW infants.
SEARCH METHODS: Search strategies were developed by an information specialist in consultation with the review authors. The following databases were searched in October 2021 without date or language restrictions: CENTRAL (2021, Issue 10), MEDLINE via OVID (1946 to October 2021), Embase via OVID (1974 to October 2021), Maternity and Infant Care via OVID (1971 to October 2021), CINAHL (1982 to October 2021). We also searched for eligible trials in clinical trials databases, conference proceedings, previous reviews, and reference lists of retrieved articles.
SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials that assessed the effects of delayed (four or more days after birth) versus earlier introduction of progressive enteral feeds on necrotising enterocolitis, mortality and other morbidities in very preterm or VLBW infants.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors separately evaluated trial risk of bias, extracted data, and synthesised effect estimates using risk ratio (RR), risk difference (RD), and mean difference. We used the GRADE approach to assess the certainty of evidence for effects on necrotising enterocolitis, mortality, feed intolerance, and invasive infection.
MAIN RESULTS: We included 14 trials in which a total of 1551 infants participated. Potential sources of bias were lack of clarity on methods to generate random sequences and conceal allocation in half of the trials, and lack of masking of caregivers or investigators in all of the trials. Trials typically defined delayed introduction of progressive enteral feeds as later than four to seven days after birth and early introduction as four days or fewer after birth. Infants in six trials (accounting for about half of all of the participants) had intrauterine growth restriction or circulatory redistribution demonstrated by absent or reversed end-diastolic flow velocities in the fetal aorta or umbilical artery. Meta-analyses showed that delayed introduction of progressive enteral feeds may not reduce the risk of necrotising enterocolitis (RR 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.58 to 1.14; RD -0.02, 95% CI -0.04 to 0.01; 13 trials, 1507 infants; low-certainty evidence due risk of bias and imprecision) nor all-cause mortality before hospital discharge (RR 0.97, 95% CI 0.70 to 1.36; RD -0.00, 95% CI -0.03 to 0.03; 12 trials, 1399 infants; low-certainty evidence due risk of bias and imprecision). Delayed introduction of progressive enteral feeds may slightly reduce the risk of feed intolerance (RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.68 to 0.97; RD -0.09, 95% CI -0.17 to -0.02; number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome = 11, 95% CI 6 to 50; 6 trials, 581 infants; low-certainty evidence due to risk of bias and imprecision) and probably increases the risk of invasive infection (RR 1.44, 95% CI 1.15 to 1.80; RD 0.10, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.15; number needed to treat for a harmful outcome = 10, 95% CI 7 to 25; 7 trials, 872 infants; moderate-certainty evidence due to risk of bias). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Delaying the introduction of progressive enteral feeds beyond four days after birth (compared with earlier introduction) may not reduce the risk of necrotising enterocolitis or death in very preterm or VLBW infants. Delayed introduction may slightly reduce feed intolerance, and probably increases the risk of invasive infection.
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- Enteral Nutrition
- Enterocolitis, Necrotizing/epidemiology
- Fetal Growth Retardation
- Infant, Newborn
- Infant, Premature
- Infant, Very Low Birth Weight