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  1. Gregory, Katherine E. PhD, RN
  2. Winston, Abigail B. MS
  3. Meller, Stephanie MD
  4. Ismail, Amen MD
  5. Van Marter, Linda J. MD, MPH


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the most common gastrointestinal emergency affecting premature infants. A better understanding of the clinical signs and symptoms associated with the disease may result in an improved ability to more effectively intervene in patient care. One of the clinical signs that have not been fully explored is the stooling pattern of preterm infants. This retrospective case-control study included 258 premature infants born prior to 29 weeks of gestation: 129 infants with NEC and 129 gestational age-matched controls. Data were collected from the medical record for the first 28 postnatal days. The relationships between the stooling pattern of premature infants and NEC were assessed via nonparametric techniques and linear mixed models. We identified few differences in the stooling pattern among infants with NEC and their unaffected counterparts. During the first week following birth, infants with NEC passed stool more frequently than controls. However, we found that these infants were taking nothing by mouth for fewer days in the first week following birth compared with controls. We also found that infants who developed NEC were fed smaller proportions of breast milk than healthy controls. Aberrant gut motility has been associated with prematurity and inflammatory bowel disease. However, our analyses did not identify any major differences in the stooling pattern among NEC case patients and controls. While further analyses may be needed, clinical suspicion for NEC should not be overwhelmingly influenced by the stooling pattern observed during the early neonatal period.