Purpose of review
There is an intense interest among neonatal caregivers as to whether lactoferrin given enterally may reduce the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants. This review presents scientific and clinical evidence that lactoferrin alleviates or prevents this life-threatening disease.
Preclinical studies in neonatal rats showed that lactoferrin given orally before enteral infection with pathogenic Escherichia coli reduced bacteremia and mortality. A multicentered clinical trial found that very low-birth weight preterm infants given bovine lactoferrin had a significant reduction in late-onset sepsis; there was also a trend towards a diminished incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis. Although multicentered trials of lactoferrin use in preterm infants are near completion, regulatory burdens required to bring lactoferrin to the bedside may limit its availability.
Extremely preterm infants should receive colostrum, a natural lactoferrin concentrate, immediately after birth and, ideally, continue on breast milk throughout the hospital stay. This practice appears well tolerated, but additional experience will tell us whether this practice reduces the prevalence of necrotizing enterocolitis.