Growth, efficacy, and safety of feeding an iron-fortified human milk fortifier

Carol Lynn Berseth, John E Van Aerde, Steven Gross, Suzanne I Stolz, Cheryl L Harris, James W Hansen
Pediatrics 2004, 114 (6): e699-706

OBJECTIVE: Survival rates for preterm infants who weigh between 501 and 1500 g at birth have continued to improve over time. In response to this continuing decrease in birth weight of surviving preterm infants, Enfamil Human Milk Fortifier has recently been reformulated to meet the nutritional requirements of these smaller, more rapidly growing infants. It now provides an increased protein level of 1.1 g/58 kJ, a decreased carbohydrate level of 0.2 g/58 kJ, and a combined linoleic and alpha-linolenic fatty acid content of 157 mg/58 kJ. As these very small preterm infants have an increased requirement for dietary iron, the fortifier has been supplemented with 1.44 mg/58 kJ of iron, an amount of iron similar to that provided in a typical iron-fortified term infant formula. An iron-fortified product obviates the need for administration of an iron supplement, a hyperosmolar-inducing intervention. The purpose of this prospective, double-blind, randomized, controlled study was to evaluate growth, safety, and efficacy in a population of very low birth weight (VLBW) preterm infants who received human milk fortified with either the reformulated iron-fortified powdered human milk fortifier test product (HMF-T) or a powdered commercially available human milk fortifier control product (HMF-C).

METHODS: Infants who weighed < or =1500 g, had a gestational age < or =33 weeks postmenstrual age, and had an enteral intake of at least 100 mL/kg per day of unfortified human milk were stratified by gender and birth weight and randomized to receive HMF-T or HMF-C product from study day 1 to study day 28, hospital discharge, or the termination of human milk feedings, whichever came first. Unless medically indicated, investigators were not to administer iron supplements from study days 1 to 14. Infants were assessed serially for growth; enteral and parenteral intake; serum chemistry and hematologic values; clinical histories, including the administration of blood transfusions; feeding tolerance; respiratory outcomes; and morbidities, including adverse events.

RESULTS: Of the 181 participating infants in this study, 96 received HMF-T and 85 received HMF-C. At randomization, there were no significant differences in infant characteristics between the fortifier groups. The percentage of participants who remained in the study for 28 days was similar between fortifier groups (57% HMF-T, 46% HMF-C). For both fortifier groups, the most frequent reasons for discontinuing the study before study day 28 were unavailability of human milk and hospital discharge. Rate of weight gain was similar between the fortifier groups (17.5 +/- 0.53 g/kg per day for HMF-T and 17.3 +/- 0.59 g/kg per day for HMF-C). Mean achieved weight, length, and head circumference were comparable between groups across the 28-day study period. Total protein intake from enteral and parenteral nutrition was significantly greater for the HMF-T fortifier group; however, this difference did not result in any difference in growth between the 2 fortifier groups. An analysis of the growth and energy intake data of a subset of the intent-to-treat population who adhered more strictly to the study feeding protocol yielded results similar to those seen for the intent-to-treat population. There were no clinically significant differences in the results of laboratory studies between the groups at study days 0, 14, and 28. Anemia of prematurity was prevalent in both study groups; by study day 28, median hematocrit levels were 27.0% (interquartile range [IQR]: 24.0%-29.6%) for the HMF-T group and 26.0% (IQR: 24.0%-31.0%) for the HMF-C group. Median ferritin levels were 77.0 ng/mL (IQR: 37-155 ng/ml) for HMF-T and 92.0 ng/mL (IQR: 33-110 ng/mL) for HMF-C. There were no significant differences between the study fortifier groups in regard to the receipt of medically indicated iron supplements on or before study day 14 or in the administration of blood transfusions before study day 0 or from study days 0 through 14. However, from study day 15 to study day 28, fewer HMF-T infants (n = 12) required a blood transfusion than did HMF-C infants (n = 20). Although the higher levels of iron in the HMF-T fortifier (1.44 mg vs 0.35 mg for HMF-C per 4 packets of powdered fortifier) did not prevent anemia per se, it did reduce the frequency of one of the most serious outcomes of anemia: the need for a blood transfusion. There was no statistically significant difference between fortifier groups in regard to feeding tolerance. Rates of suspected sepsis (26% HMF-T vs 31% HMF-C) and confirmed sepsis (5% HMF-T, 7% HMF-C) were low as were the rates of suspected necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC; 6% HMF-T and 5% HMF-C) and confirmed Bell's stage 2 or more NEC (1% HMF-T and 1% HMF-C). There were no statistically significant differences between the study fortifier groups in regard to the incidence of confirmed and suspected sepsis and NEC.

CONCLUSION: Both human milk fortifiers studied are safe, are well tolerated, and facilitate comparable good growth; however, using the iron-fortified product may reduce the need for blood transfusions in VLBW infants. The similar low rates of suspected and confirmed NEC and sepsis seen in both fortifier groups in this study refutes the premise that the inclusion of iron in fortifiers will increase the incidence of sepsis and NEC. Indeed, the incidence for NEC and sepsis for both groups in this study was lower than is reported for VLBW infants and similar to that seen for infants who are fed human milk.

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