Transpyloric versus gastric tube feeding for preterm infants

Preterm infants often have poor co-ordination of sucking and swallowing and this can delay the establishment of safe oral feeding. Enteral feeds may be delivered through a catheter passed via the nose or the mouth into either the stomach (gastric feeding) or beyond the stomach into the next part of the bowel (transpyloric feeding). This review of trials found that babies receiving transpyloric feeding had more adverse events without any evidence of benefit over gastric feeding.

Authors' conclusions: 

The available data do not provide evidence of any beneficial effect of transpyloric feeding for preterm infants. Some evidence of harm exists, including a higher risk of gastrointestinal disturbance and mortality, but these findings should be interpreted and applied cautiously because of methodological weaknesses in the included trials.

Read the full abstract...

Enteral feeding tubes for preterm infants may be placed in the stomach (gastric tube feeding) or in the upper small bowel (transpyloric tube feeding). There are potential advantages and disadvantages to both routes.


To determine the effect of feeding via the transpyloric route versus feeding via the gastric route on feeding tolerance, growth and development, and adverse consequences (death, gastro-intestinal disturbance including necrotising enterocolitis, aspiration pneumonia, chronic lung disease, pyloric stenosis) in preterm infants.

Search strategy: 

We used the standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group. This included searches of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2012, Issue 3), MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CINAHL (to June 2012), conference proceedings, and previous reviews.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials comparing transpyloric with gastric tube feeding in preterm infants.

Data collection and analysis: 

We extracted data using the standard methods of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group with separate evaluation of trial quality and data extraction by two review authors. We synthesised data using a fixed-effect model and reported typical risk ratio (RR), risk difference (RD), and mean difference (MD).

Main results: 

We found nine eligible trials in which a total of 359 preterm infants participated. All of the trials contained methodological weaknesses with lack of allocation concealment, absence of blinding of caregivers or assessors, and incomplete follow-up being the major potential sources of bias. The included trials did not detect any statistically significant effects on feeding tolerance or in-hospital growth rates. Meta-analyses found that infants allocated to receive transpyloric feeding had a higher risk of gastro-intestinal disturbance (typical RR 1.48 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.05 to 2.09); typical RD 0.09 (95% CI 0.02 to 0.17); number needed to treat for an additional harmful outcome (NNTH) 10 (95% CI 6 to 50); six studies, 245 infants) and all-case mortality (typical RR 2.46 (95% CI 1.36 to 4.46); typical RD 0.16 (95% CI 0.07 to 0.26); NNTH 6 (95% CI 4 to 14); six studies, 217 infants). However, the trial that contributed most weight to these findings was likely to have been affected by selective allocation of the less mature and sicker infants to transpyloric feeding. We did not find any statistically significant differences in the incidence of other adverse events, including necrotising enterocolitis, intestinal perforation, and aspiration pneumonia.