The timely establishment of enteral feeds and a reduction in the number of feeding interruptions are key to achieving optimal nutrition in premature infants. Nutritional guidelines vary widely regarding feeding regimens and there is not a widely accepted consensus on the optimal feeding interval.Purpose:
To critically examine the evidence to determine whether there is a relationship to feeding intervals and feeding outcomes in premature infants.Methods:
A systematic review of the literature in the following databases: PubMed, CINAHL, Embase and the Cochrane Library. The search strategy used the terms infant premature, low birth weight, enteral feeding, feed tolerance and feed intervals.Results:
Search results yielded 10 studies involving 1269 infants (birth weight ≤1750 g). No significant differences in feed intolerance, growth, or incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis were observed. Evidence suggests that infants fed at 2 hourly intervals reached full feeds faster than at 3 hourly intervals, had fewer days on parenteral nutrition, and fewer days in which feedings were withheld. Decrease in the volume of gastric residuals and feeding interruptions were observed in the infants fed at 3 hourly intervals than those who were continuously fed.Implications for Practice:
Reducing the feed interval from 3 to 2 hourly increases nurse workload, yet may improve feeding outcomes by reducing the time to achieve full enteral feeding.Implications for Research:
Studies varied greatly in the definition and management of feeding intolerance and in how outcomes were measured, analyzed, and reported. The term “intermittent” is used widely but can refer to a 2 or 3 hourly interval.