URI nursing professor’s study aims to give parents, doctors knowledge about infant weight loss

Study being conducted at South County Hospital

KINGSTON, R.I.– December 9, 2015– A University of Rhode Island nursing researcher is conducting a study that would result in new guidelines for normal infant weight loss.

“I want to arm parents, doctors and other health care workers with updated information so that parents can relax a bit, mothers can continue to nurse their babies and providers can have accurate guidelines to use in their practice,” said Diane Thulier about the study she is conducting on infancy weight loss at South County Hospital.

The assistant professor of nursing has worked at URI since 2006 and as a nurse at South County Hospital since 1989.

In September, Thulier began her yearlong research on weight loss in infants. Current guidelines describe how babies should not lose more than 5 to 7 percent of their total birth weight in the first week of life. Many times, when breastfed babies lose more than 7 percent, formula is recommended. This formula supplementation can often cause an early end to breastfeeding.

Thulier’s hypothesis is that normal weight loss for full-term healthy breastfed babies may be more than 7 percent.

“I want to get to the heart of the truth,” said Thulier. “It is important that babies don’t lose too much weight, but right now we lack good information about what is normal. If breastfed babies are expected to lose more than 7 percent of their birth weight, then that should be established.”

Thulier stressed the importance of nutrients that babies ingest when breastfeeding. She said too many babies are now switched from breast milk to formula because of the current practice around weight loss. When that happens, babies are deprived of critical nutrients, which are easier to absorb in breast milk. This can have life long implications as research has shown that breast milk reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and obesity.

Thulier said that many previous studies on weight loss have only focused on the babies’ first 2 to 3 days of life and on babies who were formula fed. In her study, Thulier will collect data for two weeks or until the baby has gained back all the weight that they lost. She with gather data from different groups of babies; babies exclusively breastfed and those who are getting breast milk and varying amounts of formula. In total, Thulier will study 180 babies.

She wants to answer two central questions: what is the average amount of weight loss and how long does it take for babies to gain back that weight?

Her work is supported by a $20,000 faculty grant provided by the Office of the Provost.

“Without these funds, this research wouldn’t be possible. I am extremely grateful to Provost and Vice President (Donald H.) DeHayes and his team for supporting this important research,” said Thulier.

Thulier is collaborating with Michelle Palmer, assistant clinical professor at URI, and Roger Fazio, chief of pediatrics, and the neonatal staff at South County Hospital.

Thulier said that while the baby’s health is important, she is also concerned about the parents’ well being in the first weeks after birth. “Having a new baby can be an exciting but stressful time,” said Thulier. “It can be very upsetting to hear that your baby is losing too much weight. I want to ease some of that pressure and distress parents feel by providing them with more accurate information and getting to the truth about infant weight loss.”

This release was written by, Rachel Smith, a graduate assistant writer at the Marketing and Communications Department.