The topical application of coconut oil may reduce the risk of infection and improve weight gain and skin condition in preterm infants

In September 2019 researchers from Australia published their review of the medical scientific literature to assess the effects of topical coconut oil in preterm infants. The researchers stated that preterm infants are at risk of increased water loss through the skin and infections due to immaturity of the skin and that coconut oil is a potentially beneficial topical agent for this group of infants as it has emollient and anti-infective properties. A total of 7 studies, involving 727 infants, met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review. It was noted that the majority of studies included infants that had been born at over 32 weeks gestation with a birthweight of over 1200 g. The duration of the studies were seen to vary between 5-31 days. Results of two studies showed that those infants who had received topical coconut oil applications had a significantly lower incidence of hospital-acquired blood stream infections. The quality of evidence for this finding was considered moderate. Overall, those infants who had received topical coconut oil applications had decreased water loss, decreased infection rates, with better growth and skin condition. However, it should be noted that the quality of evidence for better growth was considered low. The researchers concluded that topical coconut oil application to the skin may be beneficial in preterm infants, but that further research is required especially in the very preterm (under 32 weeks) and extremely preterm (under 28 weeks) infants.

Pupala SS et al. Topical application of coconut oil to the skin of preterm infants: a systematic review. Eur J Pediatr. 2019 Sep;178(9):1317-1324.

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