Babies with very low birth weight benefit greatly from the nutrients provided by breast milk, but a new study shows that small amounts of fortification improve growth rates in under-weight babies without sacrificing the benefits gained from breastfeeding.
Though human milk provides all babies with the exact nutrients needed to improve growth and protect against infections and disease, babies born with very low birth weight might still need a little bit of help, according to a new study published in BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Pediatrics. Breastfed babies are much less likely to experience diarrhea or vomiting and have fewer chest and ear infections. Long term, babies who are breastfed are less likely to become obese or develop the skin condition eczema. Despite this, breast milk is also associated with slower growth in the first few months compared to babies fed by formula, reports Medical News Today.
Researchers probed into this discrepancy, reviewing birth records between 2003 and 2005 to compare birth weights, diet, and weight after hospital discharge. A clear majority of babies with very low birth weight were a good size for their age despite being small. Babies were either fed with their mother’s breast milk, donor milk, or formula, all of which were supplemented to encourage growth and nutrition.
The results? Though all baby growth was within the normal limits, babies who were fed more than 75 percent human milk actually grew more slowly than babies fed with less than 75 percent human milk. The difference was more dramatic for babies fed with donor milk.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Tarah Colaizy, explains:
“Human milk offers many benefits for VLBW (very low birth weight) infants, and should of course be the default diet for all such infants. However our babies on average became smaller for gestational age between birth and discharge from hospital. We recommend that special attention is given to ensure that the amount protein and calories consumed is necessary to provide the benefits of a human milk diet without sacrificing growth.”
While breast milk emerges as the clearest and best option to encourage growth and nutrition in babies born with very low birth weight, some of these babies may need that extra push.