Written on March 15, 2013 by Nancy Holtzman RN IBCLC CPN in Breastfeeding Your Way, Caring for Your Newborn, Featured, In The News, Newborn Care, Postpartum Issues and Concerns
Multiple studies reinforce the importance of exclusive human milk for premature infants. Even partial use of breastmilk has significant benefit.
Please note that almost all these studies support the benefit of “Dose-Dependent” human milk response. This means that the best outcomes were found with the use of exclusive mother’s milk feeding, or the “highest doses” of human milk feeding, but in most studies, even partial use of mother’s milk showed benefits. Full data, more info and references
1. More colostrum for early preemies: Mothers who deliver a very preterm baby actually have colostrum longer than women who deliver at or closer to term. Colostrum is so critical for preterm babies to receive that NICUs may swab the baby’s mouth with colostrum if the baby is too young or small to begin milk feedings by breast, bottle or feeding tube.
2. It’s “Super-Colostrum”! Preterm colostrum has the absolute highest concentration of antibodies found in breastmilk than at any other time. Preterm colostrum also has very high concentrations of human growth factors, anti-inflammatory and anti-infective components which provide a “coating” to help mature the premature baby’s intestinal lining. This allows the premature GI tract to be able to begin digesting milk earlier.
3. Good bacteria: Mother’s milk contains over 130 oligosaccharides and pre- and probiotics not found in any other mammal’s milk (or formula) which colonize the premature baby’s gut with healthy bacteria, prevent growth of pathogens and help prevent severe intestinal infections and intestinal inflammation common to preterm babies.
4. Skin to Skin helps mother, baby and milk supply: In addition to many other benefits including better heart-rate and breathing regulation and promoting infant weight gain, providing skin to skin “kangaroo care” also helps to increase a mother’s milk production when she is expressing milk for her preterm or critically ill baby.
5. You can’t fool mother nature: Despite decades of trying, researchers have been unable to create any human milk substitute that mimics the antibody activity, reduces the inflammatory response and improves the premature infant’s health and development better than his mother’s own milk.
6. Mother’s Milk… or another mother’s milk: When a mother’s own milk is not available, the official recommendation for premature infants is Donor Human Milk from a certified milk bank. Some new mothers have medical or surgical complications or may have delivered their baby so early in pregnancy that they are unable to provide the milk that their baby requires. When a mother’s own milk is not available, the next best option is Donor Human Milk from a certified milk bank rather than infant formula. Learn more about Donor Human Milk
7. Gut Feeling: Premature babies fed with their mother’s milk or Banked Human Donor Milk rather than formula have lower rates of a severe and potentially fatal complication called NEC – Necrotizing Enterocolitis – a devastating digestive tract infection that destroys portions of the premature infant’s bowels, requiring dangerous and costly surgery and prolonged hospital stays.
8. Multi-system miracles: In addition to a lower incidence of severe inflammatory illnesses of the intestines, feeding human milk also helps reduce many other serious preterm complications including Retinopathy of Prematurity- which causes vision impairment or blindness, sepsis – a severe blood infection, and chronic lung disease of prematurity.
9. Discharged sooner: Very low birth weight preemies who received exclusive or higher doses of breast milk throughout their NICU stay were discharged on average one to two weeks sooner than those who received little or no mother’s milk. The babies were also able to be discharged at a lower weight than their formula-fed peers. Mother’s Milk fed infants also had a lower rate of re-hospitalization after discharge.
10. Long term health benefits: There is a dose-response correlation (some is good, more is better) between the volume of mother’s milk received during NICU stay and better health outcomes during the first three years of life including higher scores on tests of neurological, cognitive and developmental milestones.
Learn more about these topics and view references:
Improving the Use of Human Milk During & After the NICU Stay
Paula Meier et al. Clin Perinatol. 2010 March; 37(1): 217–245.
For more information, view our free webinar, Preemies, Breastfeeding and Human Milk.
Support is needed!
Every drop of breastmilk is packed with benefit. When a mother is pumping for a premature baby, it’s a stressful and time consuming commitment. Provide support, encouragement, and a hands-free pumping bra! If you know a family with a baby in the NICU or recently discharged to home, offer to help by providing activities for other siblings, rides to the hospital, drop off meals or assist with errands.
View the recording of our weekly Breastfeeding Webinar & Chat to learn more about Premature Babies, Breastfeeding & Human Milk.
About Nancy Holtzman RN IBCLC CPN
Nancy is a Vice President at Isis Parenting and leads Clinical Content. As one of the original co-founders, she was instrumental in the creation of many prenatal and new parent programs at Isis Parenting, helping to develop the Isis vision in its earliest stages. Nancy has over 25 years of clinical nursing experience including ten years at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, and is a mother/baby nurse educator, a board certified lactation consultant and board certified pediatric nurse. She is the founder of the Great Beginnings New Mothers Group series which has now reached over 10,000 Boston-area mothers. She speaks and writes for a national audience about breastfeeding and infant development, and has served on the board of MLCA, the Massachusetts Lactation Consultants Association. She received a BS from Northeastern University College of Nursing, and a Certificate in Advanced Pediatric Assessment from Boston College. Nancy lives in Boston with her husband, two teens and a rescued Bichon. Find her tweeting about all about babies at @nancyholtzman
The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical or health care advice or treatment for any medical or health conditions. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem or health issues, promptly consult your professional registered / licensed health care provider.
The information contained in this blog and related website should not be considered complete as it is presented in summary form only and intended to provide broad consumer understanding and knowledge of diet, health, fitness, nutrition, disease and treatment options.
Dr JPB Prinsloo is the oldest, most established homoeopathic practice in South Africa.
The practice, situated in Pretoria, was established in 1956.
To learn more about homeopathy, homeopathic treatment and the legal requirements for practising as a homeopath, visit: