Dr Colin Morgan is a consultant neonatologist at Liverpool Women’s Hospital and is the lead researcher on this study. According to Dr Morgan, “By optimising babies' nutritional intake their heads will grow more, which can help realise the full potential of the baby’s brain and nervous system.”
Many extremely premature babies grow slower than they should do in the first weeks after birth. Poor growth especially of the head, may lead to learning difficulties and other problems later at school age. There may be several causes of this poor growth, but it is likely that not taking in enough food is an important one. Premature babies often have problems tolerating the food they are given whether by mouth (milk feeds) or intravenously (by drip).
Bliss funded Dr Morgan to lead a two year (2009-2011) research project. Babies born at less than 29 weeks took part in the project which looked at two different types of TPN: the standard version currently used was compared to a version higher in protein, fats and glucose. Both sets of babies received this nutrition via a drip. By comparing these two methods Dr Morgan and his team established which is best tolerated and which produces the best growth by measuring the head circumference. In addition, Dr Morgan and his team have collected lots of information about the safety of this new method.
The findings show a significant difference between the head circumference of a baby who received the feed with extra nutrients, compared with those that received the standard nutrients. The difference was an increase of about 5mm, which is about 6 per cent difference in brain size at 28 days of life. These differences were still visible after the babies had gone home. Other studies have found that there is a link between head circumference and IQ and it is also believed that this increased brain growth could prevent learning difficulties and cerebral palsy.
Dr Morgan is working with a number of units and networks to get the increased version of TPN rolled out nationally.
Read more in this Bliss Briefing