Push versus gravity for intermittent bolus gavage tube feeding of premature and low birth weight infants

Infants born prematurely (before 37 weeks) may be unable to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing, and require gavage feeding. In gavage feeding, milk is delivered intermittently through a tube passed via the nose or mouth into the stomach. Intermittent bolus milk feeds may be administered using a syringe to gently push milk into the infant's stomach (push feed). Alternatively, milk can be poured into a syringe attached to the tube and allowed to drip in by gravity (gravity feed). There is insufficient evidence from randomised trials comparing push versus gravity intermittent gavage tube feeding in premature or low birth weight infants (less than 2500 grams) to inform practice.

Authors' conclusions: 

There was one small cross-over study that was included in this review. There is insufficient evidence to recommend either method of gavage feeding. A randomised trial is needed to evaluate the benefits and harms of push versus gravity bolus tube feeding in preterm infants. Infants should be stratified by gestational age at birth (above and below 32 weeks) or birth weight (above and below 1500 grams) and respiratory support (ventilated versus non-ventilated) and the sample size should be of sufficient size to evaluate the primary outcomes outlined in this review (time to establish full tube feeds and feeding intolerance).

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Background: 

Many small, sick and premature infants are unable to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing, and therefore, require gavage feeding. In gavage feeding, milk feeds are delivered through a tube passed via the nose or mouth into the stomach. Intermittent bolus milk feeds may be administered using a syringe to gently push milk into the infant's stomach (push feed). Alternatively, milk can be poured into a syringe attached to the tube and allowed to drip in by gravity (gravity feed).

Objectives: 

To determine whether the use of push compared with gravity gavage feeding results in a more rapid establishment of full gavage feeds without increasing adverse events in preterm or low birth weight, infants who require intermittent bolus gavage feeding.

Search strategy: 

We searched the following electronic databases to locate randomised controlled or quasi-randomised trials: Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, 2012, Issue 5), MEDLINE (from 1966 to May 2012), EMBASE (from 1980 to May 2012), and CINAHL (from 1982 to May 2012). We used the standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials comparing push versus gravity intermittent gavage tube feeding in premature or low birth weight, or both, infants.

Data collection and analysis: 

We assessed the methodology of trials regarding blinding of randomisation and outcome measurement. We evaluated treatment effect with a fixed-effect model using risk ratio (RR), relative risk reduction, risk difference (RD) and number needed to treat (NNT) for categorical data; and using mean, standard deviation and weighted mean difference (WMD) for continuous data. We analysed outcomes measured as count data, for example frequency of apnoea, bradycardia and episodes of pulse oximeter oxygen (SpO2) desaturation, by comparing rates of events and the rate ratio. We evaluated heterogeneity to help determine the suitability of pooling results.

Main results: 

Only one small cross-over trial met the criteria for inclusion in this review and therefore meta-analysis for any of the treatment outcomes was not performed. Symon 1994 reported a trend towards a higher respiratory rate at 10 to 30 minutes following push gavage feeding and no statistical difference in the time taken to give the feeds regardless of the method used.

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