Center for Pediatric Nursing Research & Evidence-Based Practice


Encourage, Assess, Transition (EAT): A Quality Improvement Project Implementing a Direct Breastfeeding Protocol for Preterm Hospitalized Infants.

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

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BACKGROUND: The opportunity to establish a direct breastfeeding (DBF) relationship with a preterm infant, if desired by the mother or lactating parent, is a known driver of positive healthcare experiences. Preterm birth is an independent risk factor for early human milk (HM) cessation, and DBF at the first oral meal promotes continued DBF during hospitalization and HM duration beyond discharge. While the Spatz 10-step model for protecting and promoting HM and breastfeeding in vulnerable infants provides best practices, lack of standardized implementation results in missed opportunities to meet parents' DBF goals.

PURPOSE: To standardize clinical practices to increase DBF at the first oral meal, total DBF meals during hospitalization, and use of test weighing to measure milk transfer for preterm infants.

METHODS: Quality improvement methods were used to develop and implement Encourage, Assess, Transition (EAT): a DBF protocol for infants less than 37 weeks gestation at birth, in a level II neonatal intensive care unit.

RESULTS: Thirty-eight (45%) infants from 27.7 to 36.7 weeks of gestation initiated the protocol. The proportion of infants' DBF at first oral meal increased from 22% to 54%; mean DBF meals during hospitalization increased from 13.3 to 20.3; and use of test weighing increased by 166%.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE AND RESEARCH: Standardizing DBF practices with the EAT protocol increased DBF during hospitalization-a known driver of patient experience-and HM duration beyond discharge, in hospitalized preterm infants. Researchers should validate the reported benefits of EAT (increased DBF during hospitalization, use of test weighing, and improved patient experience), methods to promote passive dissemination of evidence, and sustain change.Video abstract available at:



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