Plasma prolactin was measured weekly in 280 preterm infants. The complex gestational age dependent pattern of postnatal prolactin release has been defined and reference standards provided. Plasma prolactin was higher in girls, with increasing divergence between the sexes from the third week onwards, and higher after two weeks, in infants of mothers with pregnancy related hypertension. Diet, assigned randomly, exerted a major effect on plasma prolactin, with significantly higher values in infants fed donor breast milk or standard formula than in those fed a protein, energy, and mineral enriched preterm formula. After adjusting for confounding factors, infants with the lowest plasma prolactin concentrations (less than 1000 mU/l, 32.9 micrograms/l) occurring usually at a nadir between days 5 and 12, showed a 120% increase in the duration of ventilatory assistance required, a 20% increase in the number of days to attain full enteral feeds, and a 30% decrease in length gain. We suggest preterm birth disrupts the normal perinatal pattern of prolactin release and that those infants who develop relatively low plasma concentration have an adverse outcome. Our data add to the broader debate on whether preterm infants require multiple endocrine replacement treatment.
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