The benefits of breastmilk for preemies are many, but the biggest advantage is, along with modern medical advances and an exclusive breast milk diet, premature infants are more likely to survive their early birth and the complications that come along with it.
One of the biggest risks these critically ill babies face is NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis), a life-threatening intestinal infection, which involves inflammation that causes destruction of all, or part of, the bowel. Although it affects only one to five percent of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) admissions, NEC is the most common and serious gastrointestinal disorder among hospitalized preterm infants and it affects 10 percent of babies who weigh less than three pounds, five ounces. Because 40 percent of babies who develop NEC die, it's considered an emergency and often requires surgery to treat. NEC usually occurs after milk feeding has begun. In the past, a combination of formula and breast milk for preemies was the go-to diet because mom's milk doesn't typically come in fully when baby is born prematurely nor does it have sufficient nutrients once it does come in.
But research published in the Journal of Pediatrics shows breast milk for preemies (versus cow's milk) are less likely to develop NEC and tolerate feeding better, which allows them to be taken off supplemental nutrition much earlier. So what happens if mom's milk isn't in fully and she wants her premature newborn to have a 100 percent human milk diet?
That's where milk banks come in, such as Helping Hands. While moms of slightly premature babies naturally produce milk tailored to the needs of their babies, preemie breast milk is also fortified with “human milk fortifiers” to provide additional needed calcium, vitamins, and protein to meet the additional their needs. Clinical evidence shows fortified breast milk fed to preemies provides improved growth and a better nutritional status than those fed an animal milk or formula diet. Some moms are blessed with an excess supply of breast milk.
Helping Hands Milk Bank collects that excess via donations, tests it for diseases, viruses, drugs, and alcohol, pasteurizes it, and adds the human milk fortifiers. Most North American milk banks do not perform this full range of tests. Rather than pump and dump after feeding your baby, you have a huge opportunity to help save precious lives.