Systematic Review of the Effect of Enteral Feeding on Gut Microbiota in Preterm Infants

Wanli Xu, Michelle P. Judge, Kendra Maas, Naveed Hussain, Jacqueline M. McGrath, Wendy A. Henderson, Xiaomei Cong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine the effect of feeding type on microbial patterns among preterm infants and to identify feeding factors that promote the colonization of beneficial bacteria. Data Sources: PubMed, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Scopus, and the Cummulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature were thoroughly searched for articles published between January 2000 and January 2017, using the keywords gut microbiome, gut microbiota, enteral microbiome, enteral microbiota, premature infant, preterm infant, extremely low birth weight infant, ELBW infant, very low birth weight infant, feeding, breast milk, breastfeeding, formula, prebiotic, probiotic, and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid. Study Selection: Primary studies written in English and focused on the association between enteral feeding and gut microbiome patterns of preterm infants were included in the review. Data Extraction: We independently reviewed the selected articles and extracted information using predefined data extraction criteria including study design, study participants, type of feeding, type and frequency of biospecimen (e.g., feces, gastric aspirate) collection, microbiological analysis method, and major results. Data Synthesis: In 4 of the 18 studies included in the review, researchers described the effects of milk products (mothers’ own milk, donor human milk, and formula). In 5 studies, the effects of prebiotics were assessed, and in 9 studies, the effects of probiotics on the gut microbiome were described. Mothers’ own breast milk feeding influenced the compositional structure of preterm infants’ gut microbial community and increased diversity of gut microbiota compared with donor human milk and formula feeding. The results of the use of prebiotics and probiotics varied among studies; however, the majority of the researchers reported positive bifidogenic effects on the development of beneficial bacteria. Conclusion: Mothers’ own milk is considered the best form of nutrition for preterm infants and the gut microbial community. Variation in fatty acid composition across infant feeding types can affect microbial composition. The evidence for supplementation of prebiotics and probiotics to promote the gut microbial community structure is compelling; however, additional research is needed in this area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-463
Number of pages13
JournalJOGNN - Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • donor human milk
  • feeding
  • formula
  • long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • microbiome
  • mother's own milk
  • prebiotics
  • probiotics
  • systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics
  • Critical Care
  • Maternity and Midwifery


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