The Importance of Breast Milk for Heart Health in Premature Babies

It’s a commonly known fact that breast milk offers numerous benefits to newborns. But did you know that it’s especially vital for premature babies, specifically when it comes to heart health? This article delves into the importance of breast milk in promoting cardiovascular health in premature infants.

Discover the vital role of breast milk in promoting heart health in premature babies. Learn about the rich nutrients in breast milk and how they combat common preemie health issues, including NEC and heart disease later in life.

Breast milk (BM) is known to have an abundance of health benefits for babies, particularly for those born prematurely. A baby’s stomach digests breast milk more easily than formula milk. Furthermore, breast milk contains growth hormones that assist in the growth and strengthening of babies. It also aids in perfecting the digestion of babies who are susceptible to complications and helps combat infections.

However, the benefits do not stop there. Often referred to as ‘liquid gold’ due to its myriad of advantages, recent research has verified that it can improve the function and structure of the heart in premature babies in the long run.

A gynecologist has stated that the benefits of breast milk for premature babies are considerable. In the short term, breast milk provides protective antibodies and promotes the production of essential gut flora. In the long run, it is effective in enhancing the structure and function of the heart. Moreover, many premature babies face the risk of developmental heart disorders that occur in the first few months of life. These complications can lead to reduced heart function later in life, smaller heart chambers, and a thickening of the heart muscle.

Researchers have discovered that premature babies, compared to those born full-term, tend to have poorer heart function and a decrease in heart volume as they grow older. However, if these prematurely born children consistently receive exclusive breast milk, their heart function and volume can surpass those of premature children fed with formula milk.

The research indicates that although premature birth undeniably impacts a child’s developmental progress, the nutritional content of breast milk appears capable of boosting heart development. Even the highest quality infant formula milk has numerous shortcomings, such as a lack of certain growth nutrients, enzymes, and antibodies essential for a baby’s development, all of which are comprehensively present in breast milk.

This extraordinary discovery has astonished experts, as it was previously completely unknown that breast milk could offer a specific protective effect on a baby’s heart development. While the researchers had hypothesized this might be possible, they were surprised by the magnitude of the effect produced by breast milk.

According to the research findings, even though exclusive breast milk does not alter the thickness of the heart wall, providing premature babies exclusively with breast milk can assist them in developing into adults with a heart size and function approximating that of a normally born adult.

What Makes Breast Milk So Special?

Breast milk is nature’s superfood for newborns, containing a perfect combination of vitamins, protein, and fat. Moreover, it carries essential nutrients, antibodies, and other immune factors that help babies fight off viruses and bacteria CDC.

  1. Easily digestible: The proteins in breast milk, such as whey and casein, are easier to digest for a baby, especially a preemie.
  2. Antibodies: Breast milk is packed with antibodies, which help the baby develop a strong immune system.
  3. Nutrient-rich: It’s rich in vitamins and minerals needed for the overall growth and development of newborns.

Breast Milk and Heart Health in Premature Babies

Preterm infants are those born before 37 weeks of gestation and they often face a host of health issues. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that breast milk can significantly improve their heart health.

Lessening the Risk of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)

Necrotizing Enterocolitis is a serious intestinal disease in preemies that can lead to severe complications, including heart failure. Exclusive breastfeeding can significantly reduce the risk of NEC American Academy of Pediatrics.

Breast milk is not only the best source of nutrition for most babies, but it also plays a significant role in protecting premature babies from life-threatening conditions such as NEC.” – AAP

Promoting Heart Development

Breast milk contains long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), such as DHA and ARA, that play crucial roles in the growth and development of the baby’s heart and brain. Infants, particularly preemies, cannot produce enough of these fatty acids and therefore, breast milk serves as the primary source NIH.

Reducing the Risk of Heart Disease Later in Life

A study in the Journal of Pediatrics has shown that preterm infants who were fed breast milk during their early days had fewer and smaller areas of reduced heart function (a potential early marker for heart disease) at adolescence Journal of Pediatrics.

The Challenges of Breastfeeding Preemies and Solutions

Breastfeeding premature infants come with its set of challenges. They might face issues with latching or sucking due to their immaturity. Here are a few solutions:

  1. Use of breast pumps: Mothers can express their milk using breast pumps and feed it to their babies using a bottle or a tube.
  2. Donor breast milk: If mothers are unable to provide sufficient milk, pasteurized donor breast milk is a viable alternative. It’s screened for safety and retains the valuable nutrients and immune factors.
  3. Lactation support: Professional lactation consultants can provide valuable support and guidance to mothers struggling with breastfeeding.

Breast milk is undeniably crucial for the health and development of newborns. It becomes even more significant for preterm babies, particularly in promoting their heart health. While there can be challenges associated with breastfeeding preemies, there are viable solutions available. The short-term effort pays off significantly in ensuring the long-term health of your precious little one.

In the words of a well-known pediatrician, Dr. Spock:

Breastfeeding is nature’s health plan.

Promoting and facilitating breastfeeding should be a top priority to ensure the best possible start for these little fighters.


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