Updates on Assessment and Monitoring of the Postnatal Growth of Preterm Infants

Assessing and monitoring the physical growth of preterm infants is fundamental to NICU care. The goals of nutritional care are to approximate the growth and body composition of the healthy fetus and to support optimal brain development while minimizing future cardiometabolic risk. Both poor and excessive growth predict adverse long-term health outcomes. Growth curves are clinical tools used to assess the preterm infant’s growth status. Several growth curves for preterm infants were developed in the past decade. To use them effectively, clinicians need to understand how each growth curve was developed; the underlying reference population; intended use; and strengths and limitations. Intrauterine growth curves are references that use size at birth to represent healthy fetal growth. These curves serve 2 purposes—to assign size classifications at birth and to monitor postnatal growth. The INTERGROWTH-21st preterm postnatal growth standards were developed to compare the postnatal growth of preterm infants to that of healthy preterm infants rather than the fetus. Individualized weight growth curves account for the water weight loss that frequently occurs after birth. In addition, body mass index (BMI) curves are now available. In this review, we discuss the main characteristics of growth curves used for preterm infants as well as the use of percentiles, z scores, and their change over time to evaluate size and growth status. We also review the differences in body composition between preterm infants at term-equivalent age and term-born infants and the potential role of monitoring proportionality of growth using BMI curves.

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