Freeman Medical Musings Blog

Breast Milk: "Medicine" for Your Pre-term Baby

Posted by Lorie Peterman, IBCLC, BS, on April 17, 2015

When babies are born prematurely, their mothers’ bodies automatically begin to produce breast milk that is specifically designed for the baby’s stage of development. The breast milk aids the fragile early baby in developing the immune system, stomach, lungs and brain to catch up to their full term counterparts.

The first breast milk called colostrum is a thick yellowish liquid filled with antibodies, which help build the immune system. Colostrum is easy for the baby to swallow and digest – it has a natural laxative to aid in stooling which helps prevent jaundice. The colostrum also coats the intestines to prevent foreign substances from entering the body, lowering the risk of allergies and kills disease causing germs.

As mother continues to provide mature breast milk, she gives the baby antibodies and probiotics to build the immune system preventing serious infections such as necrotizing enterocolitis, (NEC), meningitis and RSV, a serious respiratory infection. It also helps develop the gut maturity and improve feeding tolerance.

The brain receives DHA and ARA, 2 fatty acids, as well as the milk sugar lactose from breast milk, which enhances brain and nerve development as well as the development of the retina of the eye. Studies show the more breast milk the infant receives, the more benefit the baby will receive. Many of pre-term babies are on a ventilator and oxygen, and statistics show that babies who breastfeed tend to have fewer days of oxygen therapy.

There are many benefits of providing breast milk to any baby, but these benefits are even more significant for premature babies. Breast milk protects these babies from harmful and in some cases, deadly, infections and helping the baby develop more quickly and thus go home sooner.