Transpyloric versus gastric tube feeding for preterm infants

  • Review
  • Intervention


  • W McGuire,

  • P McEwan

Dr William McGuire, Senior Lecturer in Neonatal Medicine, Tayside Institute of Child Health, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, Dundee, DD1 9SY, UK.



Enteral feeding tubes for preterm infants may be placed in the stomach (gastric tube feeding) or in the upper small bowel (transpyloric tube feeding). There are potential advantages and disadvantages to both routes.


In preterm infants who require enteral tube feeding, does feeding via the transpyloric route versus the gastric route improve feeding tolerance, and growth and development, without increasing adverse consequences?

Search strategy

The standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group was used. This included electronic searches of MEDLINE and EMBASE (up to December 2001) and of The Cochrane Controlled Trials Register in The Cochrane Library (Issue 3, 2001), and searches of the references in previous reviews including cross references.

Selection criteria

Randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials comparing transpyloric with gastric tube feeding in preterm infants.

Data collection and analysis

Data were extracted using the standard methods of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group, with separate evaluation of trial quality and data extraction by each author and synthesis of data using relative risk and weighted mean difference.

Main results

Data from eight trials were available. We did not find any evidence of an effect on growth rates: short term weight gain, weighted mean difference -0.7 g/week (95% confidence interval -25.2, 23.8); short term increase in crown heel length, weighted mean difference -0.7 mm/week (95% confidence interval -2.4, 1.0); short term increase in head circumference, weighted mean difference 0.6 mm/wk (95% confidence interval -0.9, 2.1). Longer term growth was reported in one study. There were not any statistically significant differences between the groups in the mean body weight or occipitofrontal head circumference at three months or at six months corrected age. None of the included studies provided data on neurodevelopmental outcomes during infancy or beyond.

Transpyloric feeding was associated with a greater incidence of gastro-intestinal disturbance, RR 1.45, 95% CI 1.05, 2.09. There was some evidence that feeding via the transpyloric route increased mortality, RR 2.46, 95% CI 1.36, 4.46; however, the outcomes of the study that contributed most to this finding were likely to have been affected by selective allocation of the less mature and sicker infants to transpyloric feeding. We did not detect any statistically significant differences in the incidence of other adverse events, including necrotising enterocolitis, intestinal perforation, and aspiration pneumonia.

Authors' conclusions

We did not find any evidence of benefit, but did find evidence of adverse effects, of transpyloric feeding in preterm infants. Feeding via the transpyloric route cannot be recommended for preterm infants.

Plain language summary

Plain language summary

Transpyloric tube feeding (into the upper bowel) has more adverse effects on preterm babies than gastric tube feeding (into the stomach)

Preterm babies (born before 37 weeks) often have poor coordination of sucking and swallowing. This can delay establishing oral feeding. While they cannot be fed by mouth, the babies can be fed through a catheter (tube) through the nose or mouth. The tube can go into the stomach (gastric tube feeding) or into the upper bowel (transpyloric tube feeding). The review of trials found that babies receiving transpyloric tube feeding had more adverse effects, without any evidence of any increased benefit over gastric tube feeding.