An Exclusive Human Milk Diet Can Reduce Necrotizing Enterocolitis

June 4th, 2010 by Dr. Jae H. Kim (MD, PhD, FRCPC, FAAP)

The premature infant grows at an incredible rate and so plain breast milk is not sufficient to provide enough energy, protein, and vitamins to grow well.

Neonatologists add nutritional supplements in the form of a fortifier which is cow’s milk based. A recent study performed at 12 different medical centers has been able to study the effect of an exclusively human milk diet, one with not only mother’s milk but added human milk based fortifier. This study looked at 207 infants that were randomly chosen to either standard cow’s milk fortifier or a human milk based fortifier for approximately the first 90 days of life. They found that the infants who were fed an exclusively human milk diet had significantly lower incidence of NEC (50% reduction) and even more importantly had a lower rate of surgical NEC (90%).

This study supports the need for increased human milk use in the NICU and provides the first compelling data that use of a human milk based fortifier can reduce NEC.

Sullivan S, Schanler RJ, Kim JH, et al. An exclusively human milk-based diet is associated with a lower rate of necrotizing enterocolitis than a diet of human milk and bovine milk-based products. J Pediatr. 2010;156:562-7

7 responses to “An Exclusive Human Milk Diet Can Reduce Necrotizing Enterocolitis”

  1. We lost our first baby to NEC after I developed P.E. I then developed it with my second pregnancy at 30 weeks,but thankfully my son hadn’t any problems with NEC.
    I am now pregnant again and there is a strong chance that I’ll develop early onset P.E again and have another premature baby.
    Reading research like this both pleases and worries you. Knowing that there are things that can be done but not knowing if your local hospital practise any of them is very unsettling. I hope that soon all hospitals are able to use this information and help prevent this horrible illness.

  2. Kristen Thomas says:

    My husband and I losted our first child to NEC in early 2009. Reading this makes him and i happy knowing that some progress is being made in finding a cure for babies with NEC. And also knowing that soon enough there will be a known cause and cure and no one else will go threw the pain of losing a newborn. THANK YOU

  3. kym says:

    I had my little girl Markia Joy. At 31 week and 6 days. she was born 17/09/2010 at 8.59 weighting 1.898kg at the monash hospital she was going so well she went from room 7 to room 2 in a few days I remember thinking there’s only one room left to go room 1 and then she will be sent to Werribee hospital she even got the blue sticker to say she would be transferred soon, on the 24th sep we went in to see her in the afternoon when we got in there we seen milk sitting on the bench next to her incubator this was at 3.30 by 5.30 it was still sitting there not in the fringe but in a tempters controlled environment, then the nurse pick it up to give to my baby , i said to the nurse I hope you’re not going to give that to Markia because we have breast milk in the fridge she said I’ll just go and have a look, she came back and apologised and through the bottle in the bin, she said the nurse that was on before her mustn’t of had a look in the fridge we were both angry about it, they never ask for our permission to give her formula they knew she was on breast milk they had no right to give her formula two days later Markia got very sick they had to operation and take out the large bowel because it was diseased but the rest of the intestines looks fine they stitch a piece of her bowel to her abdomen called (ostomy )he said the next 48 hours are going to be tough if she makes it well my little girl died 46 hours after of NEC so who do i blame for this ?

  4. Ravindra says:

    My baby just passed away few hours before due to this NEC. I’m in Bangalore, India. Baby born on 09-10-2011 @ 12:44PM in MS Ramaiah Hospital in 35th week due to IUGR. Immediately taken to NICU, she was doing good for few days also NICU Team gave my wife’s milk to baby for few days. Then they have identified NEC just before one week of death. I read all the sites, NICU team did their level best. Not sure why this NEC is not able to resolve by these MBBS,MD holders. Human found many things but not important things for beginning of the life of baby.

  5. Eve says:

    This is actually one of multiple studies that have shown that feeding premature infants human milk is protective against NEC.

    What this study does not do, however, is establish that breastmilk fortified with Prolacta’s human milk based fortifier is better than breastmilk fortified with cow’s milk based HMF. The reason is that the infants randomized to receiving breastmilk fortified with cow’s milk based HMF were also supplemented with FORMULA when their mother’s milk was not available whereas the infants randomized to receiving breastmilk fortified with Prolacta’s human milk based fortifier where given DONOR BREASTMILK when their mother’s milk was not available. So basically it boils down to a group of babies who received ALL breastmilk versus a group of babies who received breastmilk AND FORMULA.

    We have known for over a decade that premature babies who receive formula are at risk for NEC. What would have been truly helpful would have been is if the babies whose mother’s breastmilk was fortified with cow’s milk based HMF had also been allowed to receive donor breastmilk. Then we could have truly have concluded that the cow’s milk based HMF was the culprit that increased the babies risk for NEC.

  6. Rebecca says:

    In early May, my daughter developed NEC and had emergency surgery on her 1 month birthday (born at 25 weeks due to undiagnosed severe pre eclampsia). Prior to the symptoms which came on very quickly, she was on breast milk with human milk fortifier (Prolact) exclusively, not cow’s milk. She is a true miracle as it was very touch & go but she survived. We are now dealing with short bowel syndrome and tissue loss in her brain so the long term effects are still to be determined, but she is here and a blessing. We are on our 107th day in NICU with an estimated 3 weeks to go, depending on her feeding issues. This example, however, is in contrast to the study results presented above.

  7. Ravindra says:

    Rebecca, she will be fine and we will pray for your baby.

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