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Over the last 30 years, survival rates have improved among preterm infants of all gestational ages.1 With increasing survival rates, it has become evident that neonatal nutrition is important to prevent postnatal growth restriction, achieve appropriate body composition, and prevent neurodevelopmental impairment.2 Nutrition previously provided by the placenta can now be provided as parenteral or enteral support in an effort to allow these infants to mimic intrauterine growth as closely as possible. Studies have shown growth velocity alone to be associated with developmental outcomes, emphasizing the importance of appropriate nutrition for the neonatal population.2,3 Providing the best nutrition for any high-risk, critically ill neonate is an evolving field, and determining how to deliver the best nutrition for gut maturation as well as effective nutrient absorption is still debated. Previous nutritional strategies emphasized catch-up growth through increased calories, with an emphasis on carbohydrate and lipid intake. This nutritional plan led to late catch-up growth, with infants that were shorter and fatter than term infants at the same corrected gestational age.4 In addition to providing higher calories, new data have shown protein to be an important component for lean muscle mass synthesis and linear growth.5 Appropriate nutrition is also important to prevent anemia of prematurity and osteopenia of prematurity, and appears to play an important role in prevention of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).6


The goal set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics is to provide neonatal nutrition to best mimic fetal accretion rates for the appropriate gestational age of each infant.7 These intrauterine growth rates are estimated to be 20 to 30 grams per day, increasing with gestational age nearing a full-term fetus. Postnatal growth rate goals for preterm infants range from 16 to 18 g/kg per day.8 Goal increase for length is 1.1 cm per week, while goal increase for head circumference is 0.7 to 1 cm per week. Once infants near term-corrected gestational age, a goal of 20 to 30 grams per day is appropriate, and infants should follow the trajectory of growth in the World Health Organization charts.7

Intrauterine growth rates are often not achieved until near the time of discharge from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), while needed catch-up growth does not occur until after discharge.1 When growth mimicking fetal rates are achieved, infants are often found to be shorter than their term counterparts.9 Achievement of appropriate postnatal growth will reduce the risks of developing morbidities such as cardiovascular disease and neurodevelopment impairment.10

Assessment of Neonatal Nutritional Status

Assessment of nutritional status can be difficult in the preterm infant where normative standardized data are limited, especially among the extremely low birth weight (ELBW) (<1500 gm) and very low birth weight (VLBW) (<1000 gm) populations. Anthropometric analysis remains the standard of care (head circumference, length, and weight), but can vary widely from infant to infant. These data are also difficult to obtain in a consistent manner on smaller, critically ill infants with endotracheal tubes, umbilical catheters, and large fluid fluctuations. Monitoring growth with at least weekly measurements plotted on the Fenton premature infant growth curves8 not only shows whether adequate growth is being achieved at that time, but also displays trends of ...

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