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Premature baby in an incubator

Each year over 8000 babies are born very prematurely (more than eight weeks before their due date) in the UK. The best way to feed these babies in early life is not known, yet how they are fed affects short and long-term health outcomes, and has implications for health-care costs and resources both in the UK and globally. 

The SIFT trial asked whether a faster increase in the daily rate of milk feeds, compared with a slower increase, would result in better health outcomes and reduced use of hospital resources. The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine today. 

Between June 2013 and June 2015, 2804 infants born very preterm or with very low birth weight were recruited and followed up to two years of age. In this randomised controlled trial, conducted in the NPEU clinical trials unit, half received faster increments of milk feeds and half were given slower increments. 

The results showed no difference in survival without moderate or severe developmental disability at two years of age. The speed of increment in feeding did not affect the risk of infection, bowel problems or growth before the babies were discharged from hospital. Faster feeding reduced the number of days to reach full milk feeding and the number of days the babies were fed through a tube, but the risk of moderate to severe motor disability was unexpectedly higher at two years in babies who received faster increments of milk feeds.