Few data from randomised prospective studies address whether early diet influences later neurodevelopment in man. As part of a larger multicentre trial, 502 low birthweight infants were assigned randomly, for a median of 30 days, to receive a preterm formula or unfortified donor breast milk as sole diets or as supplements to their mothers' expressed milk. Surviving infants were assessed at nine months after their expected date of delivery without knowledge of their feeding regimen. The mean developmental quotient was 0.25 standard deviations lower in those fed donor breast milk rather than preterm formula. In infants fed their mother's expressed milk, however, the disadvantage of receiving banked milk compared with preterm formula as a supplement, was greater when the supplement was over half the total intake, and approached five points, representing 0.5 standard deviations for developmental quotient. Infants fed donor breast milk were at particular disadvantage following fetal growth retardation, with developmental quotients 5.3 points lower. We suggest that the diet used for low birthweight babies over a brief, but perhaps critical, postnatal period has developmental consequences that persist into infancy; infants who are small for gestational age are especially vulnerable to suboptimal postnatal nutrition.
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