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Patch: Giving Premature Infants the Best Chance

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The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends adding a human milk fortifier to mother's milk.

By Karla Sullivan, Community Contributor

Jul 30, 2019 9:09 am CT | Updated Aug 5, 2019 8:43 am CT

Born December of 2018, baby Saybie could fit in the palm of your hand; described as the size of a large apple. She was 23 weeks and two days old. The worlds smallest baby girl was able to go home in May. Saybie, who was born at just 8.6 ounces, or 254 grams, is the tiniest baby ever to survive. A true miracle because of the compassion, treatment and nutrition she received. Premature babies need the best in protein, minerals and other nutrients building their energy to grow. Sadly, many do not survive or if they do, experience long-term health issues.

Thanks to advances in NICU technology, survival for premature infants as young as 24 weeks is now feasible. What also seems to have made a big difference in baby Saybie's survival is that Saybie received a first-of-its-kind nutritional fortifier made from 100% donor breast milk instead of cow milk.

To achieve the needed catch-up growth in preemies weighing less than 1,500 g, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends adding a human milk fortifier (think of it as a preemie protein shake) to mother's milk or pasteurized donor milk to provide the needed protein, calories and fat to support growth.

Many NICUs presently have several options in a fortifier, but it's a good idea that parents ask for one made from 100% donor breast milk. It's called Prolact+H2MF and is the world's first and only human milk fortifier made with 100% donor breast milk instead of cow milk. Until the introduction of this fortifier, the only fortifiers available to NICUs were made from cow milk—known to trigger feeding intolerance and increase death due to the risk of severe complications, including late-onset sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) -- the #1 cause of death in preemies.

In contrast, the use of a 100% donor breast milk-based fortifier is proven to improve health, reduce mortality and complications and to get preemies home faster than cow milk fortifier. Many hospitals have both options—but most parents aren't aware of the differences.

But parents should also know—the term "human milk fortifier" is a generic product name that can cause confusion. Some mistakenly assume that "human milk fortifier" may imply that the product is made from human milk, which is not the case. It's important that parents specifically request a 100% donor breast milk fortifier.

Many health experts agree that parents should know all options available and are encouraged to ask many questions during a NICU stay.