The purpose of this study was to examine the current management of the enteral feeding regimens of premature infants cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
The study included responses from 70 neonatal nurses who participated in a 2009 Neonatal Enteral Feeding Survey distributed electronically to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses membership. These respondents were representative of both the United States and Canada, with 29 US states represented. The majority of respondents (95.7%) reported current nursing employment in a level III NICU.
Survey research was used in this exploratory study. The survey, Enteral Tube Feeding Practices in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, was developed in collaboration with expert neonatal nurses and nutritionists, pilot tested, and distributed via electronic means.
Survey research was conducted according to the Dillman methodology. Data analysis included descriptive statistics and univariate analysis of variance assessing for significant differences in specific neonatal feeding practices reported. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the qualitative data reported.
The outcome measures included the survey responses to the questions asked about the implementation of an enteral feeding protocol and various aspects of enteral feeding practices in the NICU.
The majority of participants (60.9%) reported that an enteral feeding protocol was implemented in practice, but that it was inconsistently followed because of individual physician or nurse practice patterns, or highly individualized feeding plans required of specific clinical care needs of the patient. Respondents indicated that gestational age was the leading criteria used to initiate feedings, and patent ductus arteriosis treatment was the primary contraindication to enteral feedings. The leading factor reported to delay or alter enteral feedings was the presence of gastric residuals. Survey data indicated that other contraindicating factors to enteral feeding are variable across NICUs and, as reported, are often inconsistent with the current research published to date.
Research is needed to provide a foundation on which to develop effective enteral feeding protocols that are appropriate for the diversity of infants cared for in the NICU. Such research findings will culminate in the development and implementation of enteral feeding protocols in the NICU, which will result in improved nutrition, growth, and development outcomes for premature infants.