Background: Despite recent advances in nutrition practice in the neonatal intensive care unit, infants remain at high risk for growth restriction following preterm birth. Additionally, optimal values for macronutrient administration, especially lipid intake, have yet to be established for preterm infants in the extrauterine environment.
Methods: We studied preterm infants born at very low-birth weight (VLBW, <1500 g) and ≤32 weeks’ gestation. Cumulative macronutrient (carbohydrate, lipid, protein, energy) intake in the first 2 and 4 weeks of life was compared with total and regional brain volumes on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) obtained at term-equivalent age. Preterm infants had no structural brain injury on conventional MRI.
Results: In a cohort of 67 VLBW infants, cumulative lipid intake in the first 2 weeks of life was positively associated with significantly greater cerebellar volume (β = 95.8; P = .01) after adjusting for weight gain, gestational age at birth, and postmenstrual age at MRI. Cumulative lipid (β = 36.1, P = .01) and energy (β = 3.1; P = .02) intake in the first 4 weeks of life were both significantly associated with greater cerebellar volume. No relationship was seen between carbohydrate or protein intake in the first month of life and cerebral volume at term-equivalent age.
Conclusion: Early cumulative lipid intake in the first month of life is associated with significantly greater cerebellar volume by term-equivalent age in very premature infants. Our findings emphasize the importance of early, aggressive nutrition interventions to optimize cerebellar development in VLBW infants.