Objective: The aim of the present study was to test the thermoregulatory feeding control hypothesis in sleeping, premature infants.
Research Methods and Procedures: In premature infants, the energy supply from food intake is crucial for (in order of importance): organ operation, body homeothermia, and optimal growth. The Himms-Hagen model of thermoregulatory feeding control involving activation of heat production by brown adipose tissue (BAT) was formulated on the basis of work in (awake) rats. This hypothesis has also been put forward for the human neonate, which can also use BAT to produce metabolic heat. According to the model, feeding episodes occur during a transient increase in body temperature. Feeding is initiated by a dip in blood glucose concentration after sugar uptake by activated BAT.
Results: In 14 neonates (bottle-fed on demand), food intake always took place during an increase in skin temperature (+0.19 ± 0.21 °C). Awakening occurred 18 ± 17 minutes after the minimum skin temperature level had been reached. When feeding time was imposed, feeding was not necessarily situated during an increase in skin temperature, and the sleep duration after food intake increased significantly (+43%). This could be considered as an adaptive response to the short-term sleep deprivation and/or stress elicited by an imposed feeding rhythm.
Discussion: The validity of the model supports the use of on-demand feeding in neonatal care units, in accordance with the infant's physiological body temperature oscillations.