The aim of this study was to determine the energy expenditure and respiratory quotient (RQ) of ventilated and non-ventilated low birthweight infants during the first five days of life, in order to determine optimal feeding regimens. Eighty six infants, of birthweight less than 1750 g, were grouped according to whether they were artificially ventilated or breathing air spontaneously, and whether they were parenterally or enterally fed at the time of study. Energy expenditure and respiratory quotient were measured during days 1-5 and the relation of energy expenditure to several explanatory variables was investigated using multiple regression analysis. The energy expenditure of ventilated infants was less than that of spontaneously breathing infants; the differences were significant on days 1-3. The respiratory quotient (mean (SE)) was greater in intravenously fed infants compared with milk-fed--0.99 (0.03) v 0.92 (0.01) (P < 0.05), with 42% of studies of infants receiving total parenteral nutrition (TPN) producing an RQ of > 1.0 compared with 16.6% of milk-fed infants (P < 0.01). There was a significant correlation between glucose intake and RQ (r = 0.39, P < 0.001). The activity scores were measured during 75 studies and scores were significantly higher in spontaneously breathing milk-fed infants compared with ventilated parenterally fed infants. Factors independently related to energy expenditure were: postnatal age (P < 0.01); milk feeds (P < 0.01); and physical activity (P < 0.05). A mix of carbohydrate and fat from day 1 may not only meet energy needs but may also reduce respiratory quotient
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