Itty Bitty Babies Need a Little Help

Very low birth weight newborns grow faster with mixture of breastmilk and formula

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) It's well established that the best food for a baby is their own mother's milk. But that doesn't mean that tiny babies with exceptional needs couldn't use a bit of help.

A recent study has found that for the littlest of babies, born well before they were due and weighing only a couple pound or less, a mixture of fortified human milk and formula can help them grow best.

"Extremely low birth weight newborns could use formula and breastmilk."

The study, led by Tarah Colaizy, MD, of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Iowa's Carver College of Medicine, investigated the impact of different nutrition plans on extremely small preemies.

They studied 171 preterm babies who were mostly born between the 25th and 29th week of pregnancy and who mostly weighed between 724 and 1064 grams (1.6 to 2.3 pounds).

Nearly all — 97 percent — of the babies received human milk, but 51 percent of them had a diet of more than 75 percent human milk.

Both the human milk and the formula was fortified to provide the babies with enough protein and total calories.

Only 16 percent of the babies were small for the week of pregnancy when they were born, but that ratio had increased to 34 percent who were underweight for their age when they were discharged.

The babies who were most likely to become underweight from birth to discharge were those who received more than 75 percent of their diet from human milk, compared to those who received less than 75 percent of their diet from human milk.

This occurred regardless of whether the milk was that of the child's mother, a donor's milk or a mixture of the two, and the babies who received donor milk were even less likely to gain as much weight as they needed to.

"Very low birth weight infants can grow appropriately when fed predominantly fortified human milk," the authors wrote. "However, very low birth weight infants fed more than 75 percent human milk are at greater risk of poor growth than those fed less human milk."

Dr. Colaizy clarified that human milk is still the best food for babies, but extremely premature babies will do better with some formula supplementation.

"Human milk offers many benefits for very low birth weight infants, and should of course be the default diet for all such infants," she said. "However, our babies on average became smaller for gestational age between birth and discharge from hospital."

She continued, "We recommend that special attention is given to ensure that the amount of protein and calories consumed is necessary to provide the benefits of a human milk diet without sacrificing growth."

The study was published August 16 in BMC Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 15, 2012
Last Updated:
August 17, 2012