An Interdisciplinary Approach to Reducing NEC While Optimizing Growth: A 20-Year Journey.

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Advances in neonatal care : official journal of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses


alaska; anchorage; pamc


BACKGROUND: Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and postnatal growth restriction are significant clinical dilemmas that contribute to short- and long-term morbidities for the most premature infants.

PURPOSE: After a rise in NEC rates in a regional neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), improvement practices were implemented by an interdisciplinary quality improvement (QI) work group whose focus was initially on nutrition and growth. QI work was refocused to address both NEC and growth concurrently.

METHODS: Through various QI initiatives and with evolving understanding of NEC and nutrition, the work group identified and implemented multiple practices changes over 2-decade time span. A standardized tool was used to review each case of NEC and outcomes were continually tracked to guide QI initiatives.

LOCAL FINDINGS: Focused QI work contributed to a significant reduction in NEC rates from 16.2% in 2007 to 0% in 2018 for inborn infants. Exclusive human milk diet was a critical part of the success. Postnatal growth outcomes initially declined after initial NEC improvement work. Improvement work that focused jointly on NEC and nutrition resulted in improved growth outcomes without impacting NEC.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Use of historical perspective along with evolving scientific understanding can guide local improvement initiatives. Work must continue to optimize lactation during NICU hospitalization. More research is needed to determine impact of care practices on gastrointestinal inflammation including medication osmolality, probiotics, and noninvasive respiratory support.

Clinical Institute

Women & Children




Obstetrics & Gynecology