Post-hospital nutrition of the preterm infant
Precise nutrient requirements and achievable growth remain to be defined for the premature infant post-hospital discharge. While fetal growth serves as the standard for the infant less than 37 weeks gestation and breastfeeding meets the needs of the healthy term infant, neither goal meets the needs of the premie graduate. The graduate of the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) frequently enters into the home setting at a physical size which is significantly less than that of the fetus of the same postmenstrual age. Nutrient need may be further altered by gender, ethnicity, hospital course and post hospital clinical status.
The limited number of investigations on nutrition post-hospital discharge differ in their infant population, study diet, duration of study diet, and final results. Post discharge formulas have recently been developed and may meet the nutrient demands for selected premature infants. Continued monitoring of the infant's dietary intake, anthropometric measurements, and clinical status will help to determine if the infant's needs are met or if nutrient supplementation is indicated.
Premature infants can grow at the fetal growth rate of at least 15 g kg−1day−1 in the NICU. This rate results in growth that parallels fetal growth, but because adequate weight gain commences only after 1–2 weeks it does not result in catch-up growth during the hospital stay. Although most premature infants begin life appropriately grown, they are frequently discharged at a weight less than the 10th percentile for age.