Feeding a premature baby in neonatal intensive care with breast milk stimulates his brain development.
- The cerebral cortex is usually underdeveloped in premature babies.
- Feeding premature babies in neonatal care with breast milk boosts their brain development, according to a new study.
- Further research is needed to understand the beneficial effect observed with breast milk.
The cerebral cortex – part of the brain involved in learning and thinking among other things – is usually underdeveloped in premature babies. However, a edinburgh university study shows that feeding these premature infants with breast milk stimulates their brain development. Which could help reduce learning problems associated with premature birth.
Prematurity: breast milk helps brain development
Scientists have scanned the brains of 212 babies who are part of a cohort called ‘Theirworld Edinburgh’. The latter monitors the progress of premature infants from birth to adulthood.
The group included 135 babies born before 32 weeks of pregnancy and 77 born at term. The type of food given to premature babies during their stay in neonatal intensive care was specified. In addition, brain scans were performed approximately 40 weeks after conception.
Brain scans revealed that infants who received greater amounts of breastmilk — either from their mother or from a donor — had a more mature cerebral cortex than those who received less. The scans of their brains thus proved to be more similar to those of children born at term.
Breastfeeding should be encouraged for premature babies
Breast milk contains many elements, such as a good balance of fats, proteins and minerals, as well as a range of other beneficial factors that support babies’ immunity. The researchers suggest that these could also stimulate the development of the brain of small patients.
“Our results suggest that brain development in the weeks following preterm birth is enhanced in babies who receive larger amounts of breast milk. Mothers of preterm babies should be encouraged to donate their breast milk, if they are able. , while their child is in the neonatal unit, as this may provide the best chance for healthy brain development”explains the main author of the study, Doctor Gemma Sullivan, in a press release from the university of edinburgh.
Still, more work is needed to understand how breast milk helps the brains of preterm babies catch up to the development seen in full-term infants.
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