Responsive versus scheduled feeding for preterm infants

Julie Watson, William McGuire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Feeding preterm infants in response to their hunger and satiation cues (responsive, cue-based, or infant-led feeding) rather than at scheduled intervals might enhance infants' and parents' experience and satisfaction, help in the establishment of independent oral feeding, increase nutrient intake and growth rates, and allow earlier hospital discharge.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effect of a policy of feeding preterm infants on a responsive basis versus feeding prescribed volumes at scheduled intervals on growth rates, levels of parent satisfaction, and time to hospital discharge.

SEARCH METHODS: We used the standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review group to search the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL 2016, Issue 1), MEDLINE via PubMed (1966 to 17 February 2016), Embase (1980 to 17 February 2016), and CINAHL (1982 to 17 February 2016). We also searched clinical trials' databases, conference proceedings, and the reference lists of retrieved articles for randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised trials.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs that compared a policy of feeding preterm infants on a responsive basis versus feeding at scheduled intervals.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors assessed trial eligibility and risk of bias and undertook data extraction independently. We analysed the treatment effects in the individual trials and reported the risk ratio and risk difference for dichotomous data and mean difference (MD) for continuous data, with respective 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We used a fixed-effect model in meta-analyses and explored the potential causes of heterogeneity in sensitivity analyses. We assessed the quality of evidence at the outcome level using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach.

MAIN RESULTS: We found nine eligible RCTs including 593 infants in total. These trials compared responsive with scheduled interval regimens in preterm infants in the transition phase from intragastric tube to oral feeding. The trials were generally small and contained various methodological weaknesses including lack of blinding and incomplete assessment of all randomised participants. Meta-analyses, although limited by data quality and availability, suggest that responsive feeding results in slightly slower rates of weight gain (MD -1.36, 95% CI -2.44 to -0.29 g/kg/day), and provide some evidence that responsive feeding reduces the time taken for infants to transition from enteral tube to oral feeding (MD -5.53, 95% CI -6.80 to -4.25 days). GRADE assessments indicated low quality of evidence. The importance of this finding is uncertain as the trials did not find a strong or consistent effect on the duration of hospitalisation. None of the included trials reported any parent, caregiver, or staff views.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Overall, the data do not provide strong or consistent evidence that responsive feeding affects important outcomes for preterm infants or their families. Some (low quality) evidence exists that preterm infants fed in response to feeding and satiation cues achieve full oral feeding earlier than infants fed prescribed volumes at scheduled intervals. This finding should be interpreted cautiously because of methodological weaknesses in the included trials. A large RCT would be needed to confirm this finding and to determine if responsive feeding of preterm infants affects other important outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD005255
Number of pages31
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016 The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.

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