Pre-term babies who were fed more breast milk within the first 28 days of life showed better levels of intelligence, academic achievement, working memory as well as higher brain function by the age of seven, equivalent to infants at full-term, finds a study.
The findings showed that infants who received predominantly breast milk on more days during their neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) hospitalisation also had larger deep nuclear gray matter volume -- an area important for processing and transmitting neural signals to other parts of the brain -- equivalent to babies born full-term.
Further, ingesting more human milk correlated with better outcomes, including larger regional brain volumes and improved cognitive outcomes at age seven.
"Our data support current recommendations for using mother's milk to feed preterm babies during their neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) hospitalisation," said lead author Mandy Brown Belfort, Neonatologist, at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts, US. "Many mothers of preterm babies have difficulty providing breast milk for their babies, and we need to work hard to ensure that these mothers have the best possible support systems in place to maximise their ability to meet their own feeding goals," Belfort added.
The study is not only important for mothers, but also for hospitals, employers and friends and family members, so that they can provide the support that's needed during this time when mothers are under stress and working so hard to produce milk for their babies, the researchers noted.
For the study, published online in The Journal of Pediatrics, the team followed 180 pre-term infants born before 30 weeks gestation to age seven.