Objective. To determine whether transition from tube to all oral feeding can be accelerated by the early introduction of oral feeding in preterm infants. It is hypothesized that this shortened transition time will lead to earlier attainment of all oral feeding.
Design. Twenty-nine infants (<30 weeks’ gestation) were randomized to an intervention or control group. The intervention group (n = 13) was initiated to oral feeding 48 hours after achieving full tube feeding (120 kcal/kg/d), and the feeding progression followed a structured protocol. The oral feeding management of the control infants (n = 16) was left to the discretion of their attending physicians. Oral feeding progress was monitored for achievement of selected feeding milestones: achievement of first and all successful oral feedings. Feeding performance was assessed by overall transfer (percent volume transferred during a feeding/total volume offered) and rate of milk transfer (mL/min), which were measured from introduction of oral feeding to first successful oral feeding.
Results. Infants in the experimental group, when compared with their control counterparts, were introduced to oral feeding significantly earlier (31.1 ± 1.3 vs 33.7 ± 0.9 weeks’ postmenstrual age, respectively) and attained all oral feeding significantly earlier as well (34.5 ± 1.6 vs 36.0 ± 1.5 weeks’ postmenstrual age, respectively). The transition time from full tube feeding to all oral feeding was 26.8 ± 12.3 days for the experimental group and 38.4 ± 14.0 days for the control group. Both groups of infants demonstrated similar increase in overall transfer and rate of milk transfer from introduction of oral feeding until achievement of first successful oral feeding.
Conclusions. Early introduction of oral feeding accelerates the transition time from tube to all oral feeding. This not only allows earlier attainment of all oral feeding, but it also provides practice opportunities that enhance the oral motor skills necessary for safe and successful feeding.