An ultrasonic technique was used to compare gastric emptying after a feed of expressed breast milk and formula milk in a blind, cross over study of preterm infants. Fourteen infants (median gestational age 33 weeks) were studied on 46 occasions. Each infant received a nasogastric feed of either expressed breast milk or formula milk, and the alternative at the next feed. Real time ultrasound images of the gastric antrum were obtained and measurements of antral cross sectional area (ACSA) were made before the feed and then sequentially after its completion until the ACSA returned to its prefeed value. The half emptying time (50% delta ACSA) was calculated as the time taken for the ACSA to decrease to half the maximum increment. On average, expressed breast milk emptied twice as fast as formula milk: mean 50% delta ACSA expressed breast milk 36 minutes; formula milk 72 minutes. The technique was reproducible and there was no significant difference between the emptying rates of feeds of the same type for an individual infant. These data show that breast milk has a major effect on gastric emptying, which may have important implications for preterm infants who have a feed intolerance due to delayed gastric emptying.
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