1. The efficacy of oral vitamin E supplementation in preventing the early anaemia of the premature infant was assessed in a 10-week double-blind trial. Forty-two babies received either a placebo or 5 or 15 mg supplementary vitamin E/d with oral feeding. No infant received less than the recommended vitamin E:polyunsaturated fatty acid (E:PUFA) value of 0.6. No iron supplement was given.
2. Weekly full blood counts were taken, and plasma vitamin E assay and in vitro haemolysis tests performed on blood sampled on day 1, and also at 6 and 10 weeks of age. All blood withdrawn and transfused and all feeds were documented.
3. Thirty-six (86%) of the babies had a plasma vitamin E level at birth below the accepted adult norm, i.e. < 5200 μg/l. At 6 weeks of age thirty-three (79%) and at 10 weeks thirty-five (83%) of the babies had levels within the normal adult range. No baby showed either clinical or haematological evidence of a vitamin E deficiency state during the trial.
4. It is concluded that in the absence of Fe supplementation and observing the minimum recommended E:PUFA value, contemporary feeding practices allow for the absorption of sufficient vitamin E by the premature baby to prevent the development of an early haemolytic anaemia.
5. No significant relation was found between plasma vitamin E levels and the degree of peroxide haemolysis.