According to many experts in neonatal nutrition, the goal for nutrition of the preterm infant should be to achieve a postnatal growth rate approximating that of the normal fetus of the same gestational age. Unfortunately, most preterm infants, especially those born very preterm with extremely low birth weight, are not fed sufficient amounts of nutrients to produce normal fetal rates of growth and, as a result, end up growth-restricted during their hospital period after birth. Growth restriction is a significant problem, as numerous studies have shown definitively that undernutrition, especially of protein, at critical stages of development produces long-term short stature, organ growth failure, and both neuronal deficits of number and dendritic connections as well as later behavioral and cognitive outcomes. Furthermore, clinical follow-up studies have shown that among infants fed formulas, the nutrient content of the formula is directly and positively related to mental and motor outcomes later in life. Nutritional requirements do not stop at birth. Thus, delaying nutrition after birth ‘until the infant is stable’ ignores the fundamental point that without nutrition starting immediately after birth, the infant enters a catabolic condition, and catabolism does not contribute to normal development and growth. Oxygen is necessary for all metabolic processes. Recent trends to limit oxygen supply to prevent oxygen toxicity have the potential, particularly when the blood hemoglobin concentration falls to less than 8 g/dl, to develop growth failure. Glucose should be provided at 6–8 mg/min/kg as soon after birth as possible and adjusted according to frequent measurements of plasma glucose to achieve and maintain concentrations >45 mg/dl but <120 mg/dl to avoid the frequent problems of hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia. Similarly, lipid is required to provide at least 0.5 g/kg/day to prevent essential fatty acid deficiency. However, the high rate of carbohydrate and lipid supply that preterm infants often get, based on the incomplete assumption that this is necessary to promote protein growth, tends to produce increased fat in organs like the liver and heart as well as adipose tissue. More and better essential fatty acid nutrition is valuable, but more organ and adipose fat has no known benefit and many problems. Amino acids and protein are essential not only for body growth but for metabolic signaling, protein synthesis, and protein accretion. 3.5–4.0 g/kg/day are necessary to produce normal protein balance and growth in very preterm infants. Attempts to promote protein growth with insulin has many problems – it is ineffective while contributing to even further organ and adipose tissue fat deposition. Enteral feeding always is indicated and to date nearly all studies have shown that minimal enteral feeding approaches (e.g., ‘trophic feeds’) promote the capacity to feed enterally. Milk has distinct advantages over formulas in avoiding necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), and while feeding is associated with NEC, minimal enteral feeding regimens produce less NEC than those geared towards more aggressive introduction of enteral feeding. Finally, overfeeding has the definite potential to produce adipose tissue, or obesity, which then leads to insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and diabetes. This scenario occurs more commonly as infants are fed more and gain weight more rapidly after birth, regardless of their birth weight. Infants with IUGR and postnatal growth failure may be uniquely ‘set up’ for this outcome, while infants with in utero obesity, such as infants of diabetic mothers, already are well along this adverse outcome pathway.
© 2008 S. Karger AG, Basel