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Importance of breast milk intake in premature infants on the neurological outcomes during school age

Posted:  Monday, August 15, 2016

Benefits of breast milk intake on neurodevelopmental outcomes in premature infants

Breast feeding appears to be beneficial for the neurodevelopment of healthy, full-term infants. However, it needs to be determined whether breast milk intake during neonatal period has an effect on preterm infant brain development. A study published in The Journal of Pediatrics examined the association between maternal breast milk intake in very premature infants during the neonatal period and neurodevelopmental outcomes.

A contemporary cohort of 180 very premature infants born at less than 30 weeks’ gestation or less than 1250 g birth weight were enrolled in the study. The volume of breast milk and formula intake for the first 28 days of life was abstracted from the medical records. Formula was administered only when the mother’s breast milk was unavailable or was in short supply. Brain volumes were measured by magnetic resonance imaging at term equivalent and 7 years of age. Cognitive outcomes (intelligence quotient, reading, mathematics, working memory, attention, language, and visual perception) and motor testing were measured at 7 years of age. Higher scores for these parameters indicated better performance.

The average breast milk intake was 90 mL/kg/day for the first 28 days of life. Premature infants receiving a higher dose of breast milk (more than 50% breast milk of the total enteral intake) had a greater deep nuclear gray matter volume at term equivalent age. The infants had better language, general intelligence, math computation, working memory and motor function at 7 years of age.

This study had some limitations. The brain growth of the infants during the neonatal hospitalisation was not assessed. Information on the infant’s breast milk intake after being discharged from the hospital was not collected. The study showed that greater breast milk feeding was associated with better intelligence quotient, academic achievement, working memory, and motor function at 7 years of age in very premature infants. These results support the national and international recommendations of providing breast milk as the primary diet for premature infants.

News source - Belfort MB, Anderson PJ, Nowak VA, Lee KJ, Molesworth C, Thompson DK, Doyle LW, Inder TE. Breast milk feeding, brain development, and neurocognitive outcomes: A 7-year longitudinal study in infants born at less than 30 weeks' gestation. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2016 Jul 29.