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Total body water in full-term and preterm newborns: systematic review and meta-analysis


Background Total body water (TBW) is one component of fat-free mass and changes in TBW are influenced by fluid shifts (especially during transition to postnatal life), electrolyte balance and nutritional status. Normal values for term-born neonates and preterm infants at birth have not been defined in large cohorts, limiting investigation into its monitoring and use in clinical practice.

Objective To systematically review the evidence base for percentage of TBW in term-born infants, quantify the effect of prematurity on TBW at birth, and describe normal progression of TBW over time in preterm infants.

Methods Systematic review of Medline, Web of Science Core Collection and EBSCO-CINAHL (January 1946 to January 2020). Included articles used dilutional methods to assess TBW.

Results Searches identified 2349 articles of which 22 included data suitable for analysis. Mean TBW in term-born newborns was 73.8% (95% CI 72.47% to 75.06%, 15 studies, 433 infants). Meta-regression showed that TBW was higher in preterm infants (up to 90% at 26 weeks gestation, dropping to 75% at 36 weeks corrected gestation) and was negatively correlated with gestation at birth, falling 1.44% per week (95% CI 0.63% to 2.24%, 9 studies, 179 infants). Analysis of TBW over time during the ex utero growth of preterm infants was not possible due to paucity of data.

Conclusion This review defines the normal TBW percentage in term-born infants and confirms and quantifies previous findings that preterm infants have a higher TBW percentage.

  • growth
  • neonatology

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article. Data enquiries should be made to Aneurin Young (

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