Objective. Approximately 90% of infants who develop necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) do so after being fed. Previous prospective studies have shown that infants given small enteral feedings for the first 7 to 10 days of feeding do not have an increased risk for NEC compared with those given no feedings. Although neonatologists now commonly increase feeding volumes, no study has compared the risk for NEC between infants fed these small volumes and those fed volumes that are increased slowly. The purpose of this study was to compare the risks and benefits of small and increasing feeding volume.

Methods. In a randomized, controlled trial, we randomly assigned 141 preterm infants in the newborn intensive care unit to be fed 10 days using 1 of 2 schedules. One group was fed 20 mL/kg/d for the first 10 study days (minimal). The other group (advancing) was fed 20 mL/kg/d on study day 1; feeding volume was increased by 20 mL/kg/d up to 140 mL/kg/d, which was maintained until study day 10. The main outcome measure was incidence of NEC; secondary outcomes were maturation of intestinal motor patterns, time to reach full enteral feedings, and incidence of late sepsis.

Results. The study was closed early because 7 infants who were assigned to advancing feeding volumes developed NEC, whereas only 1 infant fed minimal feeding volumes did, or 10% versus 1.4%. Although infants who were fed minimal volumes established full enteral feeding volumes later than infants who were fed advancing volumes, maturation of intestinal motor patterns and the incidence of late sepsis and feeding intolerance was similar in the 2 groups.

Conclusion. Given that advancing feeding volumes increase the risk of NEC without providing benefits for motor function or feeding tolerance, neonatologists should consider using minimal feeding volumes until future trials assess the safety of advancing feeding volumes.

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