Preterm babies benefit most from mother’s milk

July 14, 2022
Preterm babies benefit most from mother’s milk

Children born preterm who received greater quantities of maternal milk in the first weeks and months of life were found to have greater academic achievement, higher IQs, and reduced ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) symptoms later on. Investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) suggest that early intervention in a preemie’s life may lead to better neurodevelopmental outcomes for the child.

Dr. Mandy Brown Belfort of the Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine, and BWH colleagues had followed over 580 preterm infants for seven years for their study. The investigators had collected data on maternal milk dose (volume of maternal milk infants received each day) and maternal milk duration (how long parents continued breastfeeding) to predict neurodevelopmental outcomes that included academic achievement, Verbal and Performance IQ, symptoms of ADHD, executive function, and behaviour.

At age 7 the children were evaluated, with higher maternal milk intake during infancy associated with higher Performance IQ as well as higher reading and math scores. Meanwhile, parents had reported fewer ADHD symptoms for children who continued to be breastfed throughout infancy.

In addition, the duration of maternal milk intake (up to 18 months corrected age) was also associated with higher reading, spelling, and math scores – these beneficial associations were stronger for infants born at the lowest gestational ages, particularly those born below 30 weeks of gestation.

Dr. Belfort sees the team’s findings as an affirmation of guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, both of which recommend maternal milk for infants.

“Our study confirms recommended strategies for supporting parents to provide maternal milk for preterm infants,” said Dr. Belfort. “And it strengthens the call for health policies and parental leave policies that support rather than work against parents. As a society, we need to invest in families – it’s an investment that will continue to benefit children when they reach school age.”

Category: Education, Features

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