Feeding preterm infants in response to their hunger and satiation cues (responsive, cue-based, or infant-led feeding) rather than at scheduled intervals might enhance infants' and parents' experience and satisfaction, help in the establishment of independent oral feeding, increase nutrient intake and growth rates, and allow earlier hospital discharge.
To assess the effect of feeding preterm infants on a responsive basis versus feeding prescribed volumes at scheduled intervals on growth, duration of hospital stay, and parental satisfaction.
We used the standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group. This included searches of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, Issue 9, 2015), MEDLINE (1966 to September 2015), EMBASE (1980 to September 2015), and CINAHL (1982 to September 2015), conference proceedings, previous reviews, and trial registries.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs that compared a policy of feeding preterm infants on a responsive basis versus feeding at scheduled intervals.
Data collection and analysis
Two review authors assessed trial eligibility and risk of bias and undertook data extraction independently. We analysed the treatment effects in the individual trials and reported the risk ratio and risk difference for dichotomous data and mean difference (MD) for continuous data, with respective 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We used a fixed-effect model in meta-analyses and explored the potential causes of heterogeneity in sensitivity analyses.
We found nine eligible RCTs including 593 infants in total. These trials compared responsive with scheduled interval regimens in preterm infants in the transition phase from intragastric tube to oral feeding. The trials were generally small and contained various methodological weaknesses including lack of blinding and incomplete assessment of all randomised participants. Meta-analyses, although limited by data quality and availability, suggest that responsive feeding results in slightly slower rates of weight gain (MD -1.4, 95% CI -2.4 to -0.3 g/kg/day), and provide some evidence that responsive feeding reduces the time taken for infants to transition from enteral tube to oral feeding (MD -5.5, 95% CI -6.8 to -4.2 days). The importance of this finding is uncertain as the trials did not find a strong or consistent effect on the duration of hospitalisation. None of the included trials reported any parent, caregiver, or staff views.
Overall, the data do not provide strong or consistent evidence that responsive feeding affects important outcomes for preterm infants or their families. Some evidence exists that preterm infants fed in response to feeding and satiation cues achieve full oral feeding earlier than infants fed prescribed volumes at scheduled intervals. However, this finding should be interpreted cautiously because of methodological weaknesses in the included trials. A large RCT would be needed to confirm this finding and to determine if responsive feeding of preterm infants affects other important outcomes.