On 14 June 2016, the journal Pediatrics published new research showing that breastfeeding premature babies improves long-term heart structure and function.1
Researchers from Oxford University studied preterm-born infants in a randomised controlled trial. One group of babies was fed breastmilk donated by unrelated lactating women, while the others had nutrient-enriched formula.
At the end of the trial, the infants’ cardiac morphology and function were assessed by MRI. The results confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that being fed human breastmilk during early postnatal life is beneficial to long-term cardiac structure and function, compared to infants fed with infant formulas.
The significance of breastmilk for health in adult life
This study provides the first evidence of a beneficial association between breastmilk and a reduction in long-term cardiovascular risk for preterm infants. Other research has shown that breastfeeding can have a positive impact on other long term health outcomes.2,3,4
LLL, breastmilk and premature babies
This new research shows significant positive long-term effects for preterm babies fed on donated human milk. It also reinforces the importance of supporting new mothers in breastfeeding their own babies. When a woman gives birth prematurely, her milk differs from that of a full-term baby and contains more of the nutrients a premature baby needs. It is ideal for a baby’s sensitive and immature digestive system. It also protects against infections and illness, especially necrotising entercolitis,5 a serious condition that formula fed premature babies are more at risk of developing. 6
It can seem overwhelming to have a premature baby in a Special Care Unit. Women often feel that there is little they can do for their babies in the early days. Expressing and giving breastmilk can be a way for a mother to do something positive for her premature baby, and helps her feel closer to her infant.
For further information
1 Adam J. Lewandowski, Pablo Lamata, Jane M. Francis, Stefan K. Piechnik, Vanessa M. Ferreira, Henry Boardman,Stefan Neubauer, Atul Singhal, Paul Leeson, Alan Lucas: Breast Milk Consumption in Preterm Neonates and Cardiac Shape in Adulthood, Pediatrics, June 2016
6 The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th edition, La Leche League International, 2010, page 345
From our magazine Mothering through special care