This manuscript was released in 2019. It is a compelling read about potential adverse effects of cereal thickeners (rice versus oatmeal) added to formula, and adding medications to formula, and their impact on osmolality. Alteration of ready-to-feed preterm formulas may significantly increase osmolality and have unintended consequences (feeding intolerance, pain, prolonged GI transit, bacterial overgrowth).
The AAP has advocated against the use of thickening agents for high risk preterms under 44 weeks PMA. In the NICU and with infants after discharge in general, we always need to take pause prior to thickening feedings for infants with dysphagia, and do so after other interventions are offered (change in nipple flow rate, position, use of pacing strategies). For many infants, implementing these strategies will support safe swallowing. This manuscript adds to our understanding of the importance of considering risk-benefit ratio in all that we do.
The salient findings from this study are:
1) Cereal thickening amounts and agents added to ready-to-feed liquid preterm formulas impact osmolality and can cross the limits of AAP safety thresholds. Specifically, the thickening agent increases osmolality, and oatmeal contributed to greater osmolality compared with rice on an equi-volume basis. 2) Commonly used vitamin and electrolyte supplements added to ready-to-feed preterm formula can remarkably increase osmolality
They conclude: 1) When thickening is still a strong consideration for Dysphagia/GER management, the ready-to-feed thickened formulas may be a safer alternative as the mixture is more homogeneous and has been vigorously tested, and passes FDA regulations including osmolality thresholds. Other alternative treatment strategies may include modifications to nipple flow or feeding volume, pacing while feeding, or appropriate positioning of the infant during feeding. 2) mixing medications in the entire volume of feed, or dividing doses across multiple feeding sessions mixed with feeds to decrease the osmolality as much as possible.
I am attaching this manuscript as it will be a good discussion point with our medical teams in the NICU, with pediatricians and GI specialists, and for those of us who follow infants in the community.
I hope this informs your practice.