Problem-Solving: NICU infant aspiration versus LPR/EER?


I have a question about an NICU patient who is currently 39-3, formerly 25-2. BPD, chronic respiratory, very prolonged intubation. I did pre-feeding milk drops, etc but she never even began cueing until 35 weeks when on 2Liters. I used a Dr. Brown’s Ultra Preemie and progressed PO very slowly due to increased WOB. She has now had steroids and was just weaned to room air this past week. She takes full volume and is doing much better pacing herself and I have upgraded her to a Dr. Brown’s Preemie.  She has always had spells and apnea but for the past 3 weeks every time you go to burp her, she bears down like she is trying to maybe protect her airway from reflux, she then holds her breath and desats. I have tried smaller volumes and burping more frequently but no luck getting her burp until further into the feeding. The desats are not as low as they once were but I just feel like I see so many babies that are suffering from large volumes and experience reflux. She does have occasional choking spells and I offered to do MBSS but was shot down. The neo that day wanted to thicken with rice. We haven’t been thickening very much since I came to the unit and when the neos want to thicken they choose oatmeal. There is also a SIM spit up formula for term babies that is thicker. What should I do in this situation? I fear I am missing aspiration but most of the babies I take for fluoro don’t aspirate and I just see the retrograde flow (reflux). I have read laying them on their right side may help. What are our research proven reflux tools – I know a lot of the answer is -time to mature but is there anything else I should be doing?



Sounds like you have offered her thoughtful preparation for infant-guided, neuroprotective feeding. I’d be extra careful about letting her set her own pace, given her respiratory hx. Even healthy term NBs don’t “pace themselves” until closer to 2 months of age per the research. Though she may take breaths on her own with PO, given her hx it is likely the breaths may be even a bit latent or a bit insufficient, or she may have some element of gulping that results in air ingestion. Have you tried burping in elongated sidelying? I find that better takes the pressure off the abdomen than semi-upright burping in caregiver’s lap (since increased abdominal pressure which can provoke EER/LPR). The choking could be co-occurring EER/LPR or events of airway invasion/t mistiming of swallow-breathe interface, which is what we typically see if we were to do a VFSS on an infant with her hx and diagnoses. We rarely thicken too. Seems with Dr Brown’s nipples and contingent co-regulated pacing with resting and elevated elongated sidelying we can minimize EER/LPR events as much as possible and avert need to thicken for reflux. At the same time, we are optimizing the swallow-breathe interface with the same interventions that also minimize/inhibit gulping (and air swallowing). Sim Spit up has a slightly increased viscosity which may help – but I’d try the more strict/frequent pacing. Yes, our neos are strict about VFSS understandably but this hx is worrisome and is the classic presentation that is a silent aspirator when objectified.  Studies show that L side down the for first hour post feeding then R side down the second hour post feeding is optimal based on gut anatomy –but RNs must balance head shaping and “changing position with cares” as well, so it cannot be a perfect world. This is a fabulous paper on reflux! Does not include newer meds due to publication date but is otherwise so wonderful!— Schurr, P., & Findlater, C. K. (2012). Neonatal mythbusters: evaluating the evidence for and against pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic management of gastroesophageal reflux. Neonatal Network31(4), 229-241.


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