Study to see if babies and young children struggle to feed after stay in intensive care

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After research in adults showing only 48 hours on a ventilator can affect feeding ability and appetite for up to three months, Southampton researchers aim to discover if the same is true for babies and young children.

Researchers at University Hospital Southampton have opened the Feeding and survivorship Paediatric IntensivE Care Survivors (PIES) study to assess how well babies and young children feed after their stay in intensive care.

Katy Morton, clinical doctoral research fellow and a Sister in our paediatric intensive care unit, is leading the study as part of her PhD, which aims to recruit 340 patients across 10 sites.

The study will use questionnaires and interviews with the families of patients less than four years of age to see if they have any feeding difficulties after returning home from a stay in intensive care.

Sign of research restarting

This study is one of many that were paused during the first peak of the coronavirus pandemic, so research into COVID-19 treatments could be prioritised, which are now starting or restarting.

Despite needing to be amended twice due to the coronavirus pandemic, the study has now opened and the team have recruited their first two patients.

Its opening is a hopeful sign research is once again actively happening in other areas, as the Trust seeks to find a ‘new normal’ in how to provide care safely for patients during the pandemic.  

Lack of normal feeding

Due to the need for treatments such as being put on a ventilator to help them breathe, babies and young children admitted to intensive care often miss out on being fed by mouth for long periods.

Instead of getting their milk by bottle or breastfeeding, or eating their food, they often get their nutrients through a tube that goes from their nose into their gut, or if they are very ill, by a drip.

This means really young babies can miss out on key experiences such as learning to suck, swallow and feed, and older babies and children can miss key developmental milestones related to weaning or eating healthily.

Tracking their recovery

The PIES study will try to find out what affect this has on these babies’ and children’s ability and desire to feed or eat once they return home.

The researchers plan to do this by comparing the results of a survey filled in by their parents on what they were like before their stay in the unit to their results at one, three and six months after they returned home.

The survey asks questions about parental feeding style, feeding difficulty, parental stress and baby or child behaviour.

The researchers will also do interviews with some families at three and six months after going home to get a more detailed insight into their experiences.

“Adults, even just spending two days in intensive care, have feeding problems, altered taste sensations – things they really enjoy taste different – and a massive reduction in their appetite for up to three months after they’ve recovered,” Katy explains.

“In children, not eating or drinking properly for three months could not only affect their development, but also their growth and health into adulthood.”   

Posted on Monday 24 August 2020