BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Achievement of independent oral feedings remains the most common barrier to discharge in preterm infants. Early oral feeding initiation may be associated with a lower postmenstrual age (PMA) at independent oral feeding and discharge. In preterm infants born between 25 and 32 weeks’ gestation, our aim was to decrease the PMA at independent oral feedings and discharge by 1 week between June 2019 and June 2020.
METHODS: Following formation of a multidisciplinary team, the following plan-dostudy- act cycles were
targeted: (1) oral feeding initiation at <33 weeks’ PMA, (2) cue-based feeding, and (3) practitioner-driven feeding in infants who had not yet achieved independent oral feedings by 36 weeks’ PMA. Outcome measures included the PMA at independent oral feeding and discharge. Process measures included adherence to cue-based feeding assessments and PMA at oral feeding initiation.
RESULTS: In total, 552 infants with a median gestational age of 30.3 weeks’ (interquartile range 28.1–32.0) and birth weight of 1320 g (interquartile range 1019–1620) were included. The PMA at discharge decreased from 38.8 to 37.7 weeks during the first plan-do-study-act cycle, which coincided with an increase in the number of infants initiated on oral feeds at <33 weeks’ PMA from 47% to 80%. The age at independent oral feeding decreased from 37.4 to 36.5 weeks’ PMA.
CONCLUSIONS: In preterm infants born between 25 and 32 weeks’ gestation, earlier oral feeding initiation was associated with a decreased PMA at independent oral feeding and discharge.