The WHEAT Trial: A NICU study discovering if it is better to withhold or continue feeds during premature babies’ blood transfusions


When a preterm baby has a blood transfusion it is not known whether it is better to pause or continue their milk feeds. In a recent survey, about half the doctors within Australian NICUs pause a baby’s milk feeds, while the other half continue them during blood transfusions. One question surrounding each practice, is if one may be better at reducing the risk of Necrotising Enterocolitis or NEC.

This is an important question to answer as NEC is one of the most serious diseases that can happen to premature babies while in the NICU and one of the leading causes of neonatal death. It happens when tissue in the small or large intestine becomes inflamed. When this disease attacks intestinal tissue it can lead to damage and can even develop into a hole (perforation) in the intestinal wall making it difficult to protect itself from bacteria passing into the bloodstream. Waste then passes into the baby's abdomen and can make the baby very sick.

There is no known cause of NEC and researchers and NICU staff work tirelessly to prevent it.

In the same survey as above, over 90% of parents said they would like a large trial to find out whether either practice during a baby’s blood transfusion reduces the risk of NEC.

The International WHEAT Study (WithHolding or continuing Enteral feeds Around blood Transfusion) hopes to answer this question. This international collaborative study will include WHEAT Australia, WHEAT NZ, WHEAT Canada, and WHEAT UK and has been approved by the National Human Research Ethics Committee. Our Founder and miracle mum of three, Melinda Cruz represents parents as a Chief Investigator on WHEAT Australia.

Miracle parents, Emma and Ryan Cross decided to participate in the study by enrolling their NICU baby. “After the lovely staff here explained it to us, we enrolled Ted, our baby boy into the WHEAT Trial; and funny old thing he needed a blood transfusion about four weeks of age,” explained Ryan.

Ted’s mother Emma shared, “I was a bit anxious at first about him not having nutrition for that time, but he was fine, and he was fine afterwards. We look forward to finding out the results and finding out what the best practice is to reduce NEC, so that all babies can benefit in the future”.

The WHEAT Australia Trial is currently recruiting families with a baby in the NICU. Please ask your baby’s doctor how your baby can be included to help answer this important question and improve the care our babies receive.  

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