Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for babies, and is seen as especially important for babies who are born prematurely. That is why preemies are a priority for breast milk banks that offer donor milk. But because prematurely born babies are so fragile, and need a lot of extra care, breast milk is sometimes fortified with protein to help them gain weight. Does this special protein-fortified breast milk actually improve the growth of preemies?
Probably not, according to a new study that compared the growth of preterm-babies on breast milk, fortified breast milk, and preemie formula. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics, and lead by researchers from Hans Christian Andersen Children's Hospital in Odense, Denmark. It followed 320 babies who were each born prematurely, between 24 and 32 weeks, and weighed 5 pounds or less at birth. Although researchers were not rushing to claim that fortified breast milk could not help preemies gain weight more quickly due to the small size of the study, the results can't be seen as absolutely conclusive they did say they were surprised to see that there were no differences in the two breast milk groups.
Preemies are low birth weight babies almost by definition, so weight gain is a big concern for this group. While formula fed preemies gained weight a bit more quickly, Reuters was quick to note that breastfed babies might end up with a higher IQ (not sure whether to make a sarcastic remark here or not that's not really relevant to this study, right?) The interesting thing was that there was no difference between breast fed babies, and babies fed breast milk previously fortified with protein. The research team is calling for a further study with a larger sample, and whether a larger dose of protein in fortified breast milk might have some effect. The study's authors noted that any mother of a preemie who could breastfeed should "definitely try". For related news, read about the London cafe now selling breast milk ice cream: Breast is best for ice cream?