Preterm infants start milk feeds by gavage tube. As they mature, sucking feeds are gradually introduced. Women who choose to breast feed their preterm infant are not always able to be in hospital with their baby and need an alternative approach to feeding. Most commonly, milk (expressed breast milk or formula) is given by bottle. Whether using bottles during establishment of breast feeds is detrimental to breast feeding success is a topic of ongoing debate.
To identify the effects of avoidance of bottle feeds during establishment of breast feeding on the likelihood of successful breast feeding, and to assess the safety of alternatives to bottle feeds.
We used the standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group to search the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2016, Issue 2), MEDLINE via PubMed (1966 to July 2016), Embase (1980 to July 2016) and CINAHL (1982 to July 2016). We also searched databases of clinical trials and the reference lists of retrieved articles for randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised trials.
Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials comparing avoidance of bottles with use of bottles in women who have chosen to breast feed their preterm infant.
Two review authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. When appropriate, we contacted study authors for additional information. Review authors used standard methods of The Cochrane Collaboration and the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group.
We included seven trials with 1152 preterm infants. Five studies used a cup feeding strategy, one used a tube feeding strategy and one used a novel teat when supplements to breast feeds were needed. We included the novel teat study in this review, as the teat was designed to more closely mimic the sucking action of breast feeding. The trials were of small to moderate size, and two had high risk of attrition bias. Adherence with cup feeding was poor in one of the studies, indicating dissatisfaction with this method by staff and/or parents; the remaining four cup feeding studies provided no such reports of dissatisfaction or low adherence. Meta-analyses provided evidence of low to moderate quality indicating that avoiding bottles increases the extent of breast feeding on discharge home (full breast feeding typical risk ratio (RR) 1.47, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.19 to 1.80; any breast feeding RR 1.11, 95% CI 1.06 to 1.16). Limited available evidence for three months and six months post discharge shows that avoiding bottles increases the occurrence of full breast feeding and any breast feeding at discharge and at six months post discharge, and of full (but not any) breast feeding at three months post discharge. This effect was evident at all time points for the tube alone strategy and for all except any breast feeding at three months post discharge for cup feeding. Investigators reported no clear benefit when the novel teat was used. No other benefits or harms were evident, including, in contrast to the previous (2008) review, length of hospital stay.
Evidence of low to moderate quality suggests that supplementing breast feeds by cup increases the extent and duration of breast feeding. Current insufficient evidence provides no basis for recommendations for a tube alone approach to supplementing breast feeds.