Problem Solving: Infants of Diabetic Mothers in the NICU

Recently, I have seen a number of infants born to diabetic mothers (IDMs) who are LGA, but with an otherwise stable medical status who are persistently poor feeders. I frequently find myself scratching my head and wondering how to address this problem so these babies can be discharged home, but without much success. Do you have any experience, input, or suggestions to help guide our treatment?

Babies who are infants of a diabetic mother often receive the label “LGA” (large for gestational age) but their “greater size” does not mean “greater maturity”, although this may be the presumption of some NICU caregivers. Indeed due to the high fat storage related to being an IDM, their tone is often “doughy” and they are not like “big babies” when it comes to feeding. This unfortunately sets them up to be expected to feed like “big babies” by some NICU caregivers. From the beginning of PO feeding initiation, these expectations are not reasonable, given their medical history.

Besides poor state regulation leading to poor drive to feed, added issues for IDMs can be increased work of breathing, which can lead to respiratory fatigue. Our neonatologists have us follow these infants, and expect significant improvements in feeding over about 2 weeks, once blood sugars are stable. If progress with feeding is not forthcoming, the neonatologists usually do neuroimaging studies such as a CT of the brain to look for brain malformations. Infants of diabetic mothers are at risk for brain malformations due to the altered “fetal environment” secondary to maternal diabetes. Slow flow rate, external pacing to limit bolus size and support coordination, attention to respiratory behaviors during feeding, re-alerting, avoiding passive “prodding” to empty the bottle and judicious interim use of gavage feeds are all useful interventions.

Therapists are essential to the infant’s team, to model patience and infant-driven feeding, to promote careful attention/response to the infant’s cues and behaviors, and to share strategies and rationale with bedside caregivers and families. Too often, “getting the baby home” can overshadow what needs to be a period of recovery and supported learning for the infant.

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