Breast milk helps premature babies survive common condition

Most moms have heard the saying that breast milk is best, but for premature infants it just might even be a lifesaver.

Research shows breast milk is proving to be a powerful weapon against the most common intestinal disease that threatens the lives of premature babies.

The disease is called necrotizing enterocolitis, or "NEC" for short. It's commonly found in premature and low birth weight infants.

Dr. Michelle Feinberg, who is a neonatologist, says the intestinal disease can be a very dire diagnosis. And while what causes NEC is unknown, doctors do know that breast milk is preventative.

Feinberg led a team at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver and launched an NEC prevention initiative.

There were three key parts: early use of breast milk, the addition of probiotics and a state-of-the-art prep room where specially trained techs process and prepare breast milk for each baby.

"They bring those prepared feedings back to the room to again store in the milk fridge for the nurses to then administer to the babies around the clock, "explained Feinberg.

The initiative has been successful. By 2013, the hospital's incidence of NEC dropped from the national average of four percent to less than half of one percent, and it's stayed there.

Feinberg said commercial infant formula is to be avoided when feeding fragile, premature infants.

If a mom doesn't produce enough breast milk to feed her premature baby, it is supplemented with donor breast milk from approved volunteer donors who participate in a donor breast milk program.
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