Research focuses on feeding difficulties for children born prematurely

Feeding difficulties are prevalent among many infants born prematurely. The current evidence differs on whether these problems persist into early childhood and whether early feeding difficulties are predictive of later feeding difficulties. These feeding difficulties are the focus of new research to be presented at the Speech Pathology Australia National Conference in Brisbane commencing on 3 June 2019.

A recent study undertaken by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute seeks to determine whether three-year olds born before 30 weeks have poorer feeding outcomes than babies born full term. The research also investigates whether feeding skills in one-year-old children born before 30 weeks can predict future feeding difficulties in early childhood.

The research examined the feeding behavior of three-year old children who had been born before 30 weeks, against a full-term comparison group.

Factors investigated that might be associated with feeding difficulties and preterm birth included: gestational age at birth, chronic lung disease, age that breastfeeding ceased, weight at 12 months, and neurodevelopmental diagnoses (such as autism or cerebral palsy.)

The research looked at 217 children, 111 born before 30 weeks and 106 born at full term.

While parents of children born at less 30 weeks reported more feeding concerns than parents of full-term babies, the study found feeding outcomes for three-year-old children born under 30 weeks were similar to babies who had been born at full-term.

The study identified that further research is required to explain what is driving parental concern about feeding.

The study’s lead author, speech pathologist Katherine Sanchez, thinks that these findings could be used to reassure the parents of children born early.

We know that the parents of children born early can worry about their child’s eating, given these children’s difficult medical history, small size at birth, and the early focus on milk volumes and weight gain.

While more research is needed, our findings suggest that, by three years of age, even children born very early are eating and drinking in similar ways to children born at full term. Mealtime struggles for three-year-olds born preterm might be less related to their medical history, and more to do with normal toddler testing.”

Katherine Sanchez, Study’s Lead Author, Speech Pathologist

However, she encourages concerned parents to seek advice from a health practitioner, such as their GP, maternal and child health nurse, or a speech pathologist who works with children with feeding issues.

“Feeding problems may still occur in three-year-olds born preterm, just as they may for any other child,” Ms Sanchez cautioned, “and as with any developmental concern, early intervention is key.”

Source: Speech Pathology Australia

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