For Healthcare Professionals only

FAQ's in Preterm Care and Nutrition Answered by Experts
By - Dr. Arvind Shenoi, Dr. Nilesh Nikhilesh Rao
Chief Neonatologist and Medical Director, Cloudnine Hospital,Old Airport Road, Bangalore, Consultant Neonatologist, Cloudnine Hospital, Old Airport Road, Bangalore
Nutrition in preterm infants is important for growth, metabolism and immunity. What are the developmental consequences of poor nutrition?

Nutrition is the foundation of the rapid growth seen in the third trimester of pregnancy. During the nal twelve weeks of pregnancy, the fetus triples its body weight, undergoes rapid developmental maturation of the brain and other organs, and develops immunity. If a baby is born premature, the onus lies with the neonatologist to promote and sustain in utero growth pattern. Poor nutrition during this vulnerable period results in a signi cant impact on the growth and development of the baby. The de ciency of macronutrients result in extra-uterine growth retardation (EUGR). EUGR results in a poor neurodevelopmental outcome. The de ciency of micronutrients at critical periods of brain development result in speci c de cits, which may not be corrected even if a adequate amounts of nutrients are provided later. Poor nutrition in preterm results in signi cant decrease in brain volume, increased risk of neurological disabilities, cardio-metabolic maladaptation, lower bone mineral density, and increased risk of social disabilities.

Are aggressive nutritional strategies recommended for preterm infants. Kindly enlist them?

The growth of a preterm neonate is ideal, if it follows the growth pattern of a healthy, normally growing human fetus of the same gestational age. Early “aggressive” nutrition regimens can prevent the postnatal growth failure and improve neurocognitive outcomes in a preterm neonate. Cumulative energy and protein de¬cits may lead to EUGR if an early, aggressive approach to nutrition is not adopted.

Early nutrition is specifically important for extremely preterm infants (< 28 weeks of gestation), extremely low-birth-weight (ELBW) infants, and growth-restricted neonates. A key element of the aggressive nutrition strategy is an adequate protein intake in the form of early intra venous (IV) administration of amino acids 3.8-4.2 g/kg/day in extremely preterm neonates and 3.2-3.6 g/kg/day in other preterm neonates.

The advantages include an increased rate of weight gain, reduced growth deficits, and a better weight at discharge.

For optimal growth, while on high-protein nutrition, an energy intake of around 115-120 kcal/kg/day is ideal. The initiation of lipids at 0.5-1 g/kg/day from the first day is advisable.

Colostrum painting and early “trophic” feeds with mother's expressed breast milk (EBM) can help establish the favorable gut microbiome and reduces the incidence of sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in preterm neonates.

What are the merits and demerits of enteral feeding in preterm infants?

Minimal enteral nutrition (feed volumes of 10-20 mL/kg/day) helps in early colonization of favorable gut flora, reduces time to gain birth weight, improves feed tolerance, and helps in better gut motility. Early enteral feeding and rapid feed advancement with EBM has advantages, including a reduced neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stay and reduced sepsis related to IV nutrition. The disadvantage of enteral feeding with cow's milk-based formulas is a higher risk of NEC, especially in high-risk groups like extremely preterm infants and those with compromised gut perfusion like Intrauterine growth restricted babies. Also, due to gut immaturity, preterm infants are prone to recurrent feed intolerance while on enteral feeds.

What is recommended: early or late enteral feeding? Why?

Early enteral feeding with human breast milk is recommended for earlier gut priming with favorable gut bacteria, better development of the intestinal mucosal epithelium, optimal development of the intestinal immune system, better digestive tolerance, reduced incidence of sepsis, and early discharge from the hospital without increasing the risk of NEC in a preterm neonate. We routinely practice early enteral feeding soon after birth.

What is your view on slow versus rapid feeding? Would rapid feeding increases the risk of NEC?

A Cochrane meta-analysis that looked at slow advancement (daily increments of 10-20 mL/kg/day) versus rapid advancement (increment of 30-40 mL/kg/day) in very preterm or very low-birth-weight (VLBW) infants did not demonstrate an increased risk of NEC (RR 1.07; 95% CI 0.83-1.39) or mortality (RR 1.15; 95% CI 0.93-1.42) in the latter group. On the contrary, slow advancement led to a delay in the establishment of full enteral feeds and an increased risk of invasive infection. Thus, daily feed increments of 30-40 mL/kg/day are suggested in preterm or VLBW infants.

Can preterm infant be fed while on ventilator or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)?

Yes, preterm infants can be fed EBM via a nasogastric tube while they are on a ventilator or on a CPAP support if they are hemodynamically stable. This is a routine practice at our unit as well as at many other units. Feeding is interrupted for brief periods around peri-extubation or if there are signs of feed intolerance.

Which criteria should be considered while choosing an infant formula for preterm infants?

It is to be emphasized that human milk or donor milk is recommended for feeding preterm neonates. If neither are available a formula closest in composition to breast milk which contains all the the nutrients as recommended by professional agencies like European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) may be used. Preterm formulas should contain higher proteins and calories to facilitate the adequate growth. Whey predominant formulas have a pro le closer to breast milk and are better tolerated. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs)like omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA) are essential for neural and retinal development in neonates and also have an impact on membrane function, eicosanoid formation, immunity and numerous physiological processes.

The DHA intake recommended by ESPGHAN committee on Nutrition for preterms is 12-30mg/kg/day and AA 18-42mg/kg/day with the ratio of AA to DHA in the range of 1-2:1 and the eicosapentenoic acid supply should not exceed 30% of DHA supply. The intake of formula containing DHA levels of 0.3% fatty acids has been shown to enhance development of visual acuity in infants at 12 months of age.

Other components like galacto - and fructo oligosaccharides (Prebiotics) may confer bifidogenic effects and may have beneficial effects on gut microbome.

What are the risks of poor weight gain in preterm infants?

Despite the use of aggressive parenteral and enteral nutrition, nearly 25% of ELBW infants have severe EUGR-defined as growth less than the third centile for a postmenstrual age (PMA). These may reflect the need for a greater protein and energy intake during the preterm period to sustain a growth of 15 g/kg/day or more. The consequences of EUGR include immediate effects of protein calorie restriction, like susceptibility to infection, hypoglycemia, hypothermia, and sepsis. Long-term effects of EUGR include adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes and a risk of obesity and programing for adult onset disease if a rapid weight gain occurs on follow-up.

Should preterm infants on formula milk be shifted to standard formulas if yes, kindly explain why and when?

Preterm infants need to be fed EBM with or without fortification as needed. If the preterm infant require formula feeds, it is best to provide a preterm formula. Preterm formulas are richer in calories and have a higher proportion of proteins, iron, zinc, and some vitamins compared with term formulas.

The evidence supports that these formulas should be continued post discharge.

The evidence shows that the use of high-calorie formula post discharge results in higher rate of weight gain. However, the benefits do not seem to be sustained upon follow-up at 12-18 months or translate into a better neurodevelopmental outcome.

At our unit, we help mothers focus on the lactation support and use a preterm formula until the baby regains its centile or the baby is back on direct breast milk or EBM. If needed, the term formula is used after the baby has completed “catch-up” growth.

What is your view regarding the timing of cord clamping in preterm infants how would it help?

In preterm infants, a delay in cord clamping provides more time for the physiological transition from a fetal to a neonatal life. A recent meta-analysis confirmed that a delay in cord clamping of 60 seconds or more was associated with a reduced hospital mortality by 30% (RR 0.68; 95% CI 0.52-0.90), an increased peak hematocrit by 2.73 (95% CI 1.94-3.52), a reduced need for blood transfusion, and an increased peak serum bilirubin by 4 mmol/L. Some studies have shown a reduction in intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) and bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). However, the meta-analysis suggested neither an increase nor a decrease in these as well as much other morbidity.

Can long-time CPAP be harmful to preterm infants what is the optimal duration of CPAP in preterm infants?

CPAP is a relatively safe and effective tool to treat respiratory distress in term and preterm neonates from a variety of causes. Sometimes, neonates on CPAP can have complications like pneumothorax and air leaks. Like all therapeutic modalities, the judicious use provides the best outcome.

The initiation of CPAP-right in the delivery room at the very onset of respiratory distress-is a key to the reduction in respiratory morbidity, such as the need for mechanical ventilation. The termination of CPAP is determined by the resolution of the underlying illness, a reduced need for oxygen, and a sustained respiratory effort from neonates. Hence, the optimal duration of CPAP is determined by an early initiation and a prompt termination of CPAP, and varies with each neonate.

What are the alarm limits for peripheral oxygen saturation that must be set when a preterm is on oxygen therapy kindly explain the reason?

The most prudent oxygen saturation range in preterm neonates on oxygen therapy seems to be 90%-95% and hence, the alarm limits to be set are 96% for the higher limit and 89% for the lower limit. Multiple trials (eg, STOP-ROP, BOOST-II, and SUPPORT) have tried to establish the ideal saturation limits in order to provide just the right amount of oxygen to neonates to reduce the risk of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), BPD, and neurological morbidity. A meta-analysis of these trials suggests that in the range of 85%-89%, there was an increased incidence of NEC, a higher mortality rate at 18-24 months, and a lower incidence of ROP. The STOP-ROP trial had earlier shown that peripheral oxygen saturation in the range of 96%-99% was associated with a greater incidence of BPD and a longer duration of hospitalization.


  1. Georgie MK. Nutrition and the developing brain: Nutrient priorities and measurement. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Feb;85(2):614s–620s.
  2. Kumar RK, Singhal A, Vaidya U, Banerjee S, Anwar F, Rao S. Optimising nutrition in Preterm Low birth weight infants – Consensus summary.Front Nutr 2017;4:20.
  3. Hay WW Jr. Aggressive nutrition of the preterm infant. Curr Pediatr Rep. 2013 Dec;1(4).
  4. Thureen PJ. Early aggressive nutrition in the neonate. Pediatr Rev. 1999 Sep;20(9):e45–55.
  5. Manea A, Boia M, Iacob D, Dima M, Iacob RE. Bene ts of early enteral nutrition in extremely low birth weight infants. Singapore Med J. 2016 Nov;57(11):616–8.
  6. Oddie SJ, Young L, McGuire W. Slow advancement of enteral feed volumes to prevent necrotising enterocolitis in very low birth weight infants. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD001241. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001241.pub7.
  7. Agostoni C, Buonocore G, Carnielli VP et al. Enteral Nutrient Supply for Preterm infants: Commentary from the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology,Hepatology and Nutrition Committee on Nutrition. JPGN 2010; 50: 85.
  8. Koletzko B, Human Milk Lipids. Ann Nutr Metab 2016;69(suppl 2):27-40.
  9. Vandenplas, Y., Zakharova, I., & Dmitrieva, Y. (2015). Oligosaccharides in infant formula: More evidence to validate the role of prebiotics. British Journal of Nutrition, 113(9), 1339-1344. doi:10.1017/S0007114515000823.
  10. Su BH. Optimizing nutrition in preterm infants. Pediatr Neonatol. 2014 Feb;55(1):5–13.
  11. Young L, Embleton ND, McGuire W. Nutrient-enriched formula versus standard formula for preterm infants following hospital discharge. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Dec 13;12:CD004696.
  12. Fogarty M, Osborn DA, Askie L, Seidler AL, Hunter K, Lui K, et al. Delayed vs early umbilical cord clamping for preterm infants: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2018 Jan;218(1):1–18.
  13. Morley CJ, Davis PG, Doyle LW, Brion LP, Hascoet JM, Carlin JB; COIN Trial Investigators. Nasal CPAP or intubation at birth for very preterm infants. N Engl J Med. 2008 Feb 14;358(7):700–8.
  14. Supplemental therapeutic oxygen for prethreshold retinopathy of prematurity (STOP-ROP), a randomized, controlled trial. I: Primary outcomes. Pediatrics. 2000 Feb;105(2):295–310.
  15. Manja V, Saugstad OD, Lakshminrusimha S. Oxygen saturation targets in preterm infants and outcomes at 18-24 months: A systematic review. Pediatrics. 2017 Jan;139(1).


The scientific content of this publication has been conceptualized and edited by Insignia Communications Pvt. Ltd. through an educational grant from Danone. This publication is distributed free of cost as a service to the medical profession for educational purpose only. The content herein has been developed by clinicians and medical writers. Insignia Communications Pvt. Ltd. has obtained the necessary consent & all mandatory/statutory permission from the respective authors and content generators for publishing the material appearing in this publication. Although the greatest possible care has been taken in compiling, checking and developing the content to ensure that it is accurate and complete, the authors, its servants or agents, and sponsors shall not be responsible or in anyway liable for any injury and/or damage to any persons in view of any errors, omissions, or inaccuracies and/or incompleteness in this publication, whether arising from negligence or otherwise. This document is being shared by Danone as a scientific service to medical doctors.

Important Notice:

The World Health Organization (WHO)* has recommended that pregnant women and new mothers be informed of the benefits and superiority of breast-feeding, in particular, the fact that it provides the best nutrition and protection from illness for babies. Mothers should be given guidance on the preparation for and maintenance of lactation, with special emphasis on the importance of the well-balanced diet both during pregnancy and after delivery. Unnecessary introduction of partial bottle feeding or other foods and drinks should be discouraged since it will have a negative effect on breast-feeding. Similarly mothers should be warned of the difficulty of reversing a decision not to breastfeed. Before advising a mother to use an infant formula, she should be advised of the social and financial implications of her decision. For example, if a baby is exclusively bottle-fed, more than one can (500g) per week will be needed, so the family circumstances and cost should be kept in mind. Mother should be reminded that breast milk is not only the best but also the most economical food for babies. If a decision to use infant formula is taken, it is important to give instruction on correct preparation methods, emphasizing that unboiled water, unsterilized bottles or incorrect dilution can lead to illness.

*See: International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, adopted by the World Health Assembly in Resolution WHA 34.22, May 1981.

    Mothers should be explained the following advantages & nutritional superiority of breastfeeding:

  1. Immediately after delivery, breast milk is yellowish and sticky. This milk is called colostrum, which is secreted during the first week of delivery. Colostrum is more nutritious than mature milk because it contains more protein, more anti-infective properties which are of great importance for the infant's defence against dangerous neonatal infections. It also contains higher levels of, Vitamin 'A'
  2. Breast miIk:
    1. is, a complete and balanced food and provides all the nutrients needed by the infant (for the first six months of life)
    2. has anti-infective properties that protect the infants from infection in the early months
    3. is always available
    4. needs no utensils or water (which might, carry germs) or fuel for its preparation
  3. Breastfeeding is much cheaper than feeding infant milk substitutes as the cost of the extra food needed by the mother is negligible compared to the cost of feeding infant milk substitutes
  4. Mothers who breast-feed usually have longer periods of infertility after child birth than non-lactators

    Details of management of breast feeding, as under:

  1. Breast-feeding.
    1. Immediately after delivery enables the contraction of the womb and helps the mother to regain her figure quickly
    2. is successful when the infant suckles frequently and the mother wanting to breast-feed is confident in her ability to do so
  2. In order to promote and support breast-feeding the mother's natural desire to breast feed should always be encouraged by giving, where needed, practical advice and making sure that she has the support of her relatives
  3. Adequate care for the breast and nipples should be taken during pregnancy
  4. It is also necessary to put the infant to the breast as soon as possible after delivery
  5. Let the mother and the infant stay together after the delivery, the mother and her infant should be allowed to stay together (in hospital, this is called "rooming-in")
  6. Give the infant colostrum as it is rich in many nutrients and anti-infective factors protecting the infants from infections during the few days of its birth
  7. The practice of discarding colostrum and giving sugar water, honey water, butter or other concoctions instead of colostrum should be very strongly discouraged
  8. Let the infants suckle on demand
  9. Every euort should be made to breast-feed the infants whenever they cry
  10. Mother should keep her body and clothes and that of the infant always neat and clean
  11. Breast-feeding is the best form of nutrition for babies and provides many benefits to babies and mothers. It is important that, in preparation for and during breast-feeding, you eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast-milk, and reversing the decision not to breast-feed is diflcult. Always consult your Healthcare Professional for advice about feeding your baby. The social and financial implications of using infant formula should be considered. Improper use of an infant formula or inappropriate foods or feeding methods may present a health hazard. If you use infant formula, you should follow manufacturer's instructions for use carefully - failure to follow the instructions may make your baby ill.

How did you find the article? Vote Now






expert voice icon

Recent Articles

FAQ's in Preterm Care and Nutrition Answered by Experts
FAQ's in Preterm Care and Nutrition Answered by Experts thumbnail

By- Dr. Arvind Shenoi, Dr. Nilesh Nikhilesh Rao
Chief Neonatologist and Medical Director, Cloudnine Hospital,Old Airport Road, Bangalore, Consultant Neonatologist, Cloudnine Hospital, Old Airport Road, Bangalore

Nutrition in preterm infants is important for growth, metabolism and immunity. What are the develop...

Read More..

FAQ's in Preterm Care and Nutrition Answered by Experts
FAQ's in Preterm Care and Nutrition Answered by Experts thumbnail

By- Dr. Pankaj Garg
Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi.

All preterm neonates are not same.How do we decideon feeding option for the preterm neonate? Feedin...

Read More..

Feeding Of Low Birth Weight Neonates
Feeding Of Low Birth Weight Neonates thumbnail

By- Dr. Pankaj Garg
Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatology, Institute of Child Health, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi

Newborn nutrition is a vital part of the well-being of an infant. The period of rapid growth in inf...

Read More..