It is an established fact that breast milk is best for newborn babies up to a year old because it gives babies the right amount of enzymes, hormones, and antibodies for proper growth and development. However, what about premature babies?
Breast milk is also highly recommended for premature babies but is lacking in protein, energy, minerals, salts, and vitamins critically which is why doctors recommended baby milk fortifier.
What is Breast Milk Fortifier?
Breast milk fortifier is a protein supplement made from the human milk or that of cows. They come in tiny fragments that babies can digest without developing allergies. It has a high mineral content so a small percentage of babies may not be able to tolerate it but since it is vital to growth, the doctor usually recommends half dosage rather than discontinuation.
Based on studies done on premature babies as late as 2012, the use of fortifiers improved weight gain and growth. The studies, which were done in North Carolina by the Coastal Carolina Neonatology also suggested that liquid fortifiers are better than the powder form because there is a lower risk for bacterial infection. They use fortifiers made by Mead Johnson and divided the 150 premature babies into two groups: those given liquid fortifiers and those given powder fortifiers. After 28 days, the fortified breast milk feedings were stopped and both babies’ weights improved but those in the liquid fortifier grew heavier, longer, with a better head circumference by a slightly small margin. Of course, there is the underlying factor of the quality of breast milk from the donor – or the mother. If the mother’s diet is not balanced, this will affect the quality of her milk.
The Ethics of Using Breast Milk Fortifier
Many parents balk at the idea of their baby taking milk from a stranger but doctors try to convince them that breast milk fortifier or even breast milk itself from a stranger is just like giving your premature baby the medicine he or she needs to grow and graduate from this critical stage.
Once the baby is born, it is vulnerable to bacteria. Breast milk helps the baby fight these bacteria. At the same time, a baby’s digestive and immune system are still very immature especially a baby born at 29 weeks. These systems get better once the baby is past 32 weeks so there is critical 2 to 3 weeks period where the premature baby is at risk for infection. Breast milk is able to fight for the baby by supporting the immune system.
Thirdly, since premature babies cannot take in a lot of breast milk at a time, doctors feel that quality breast milk – or enhanced with fortifiers will make up for the low volume – and this will give the babies a better for their brain and physical growth to reach normal levels.
How to Use Breast Milk Fortifier
Typically, the fortifier and dosage is recommended by the pediatrician. It is mixed with the breast milk only upon feeding time. This implies that the mother has to express the breast milk into a baby bottle first and accurately measure the milk before adding the fortifier.
The fortified breast milk must be shaken for a few minutes to blend the milk properly. Unused milk should be thrown and cannot be stored. Once the baby grows bigger, the dosage will change and once the baby reaches a certain weight target and is able to latch on to the mother’s breast, the use of fortifier is stopped.