New study shows breast milk could boost preemie’s brain power

Posted at 5:58 PM, May 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-04 19:58:41-04

SALT LAKE CITY– There’s been plenty of debate about the benefits of breastfeeding, but a new study suggest breast milk can boost brain growth in preemies.

Babies born before their due date face a myriad of health problems because their brains are not fully developed. A new study links breast milk to significant early brain growth in these premature children.

Researchers found preemies who consumed at least 50 percent breast milk during their first month of life had more brain development by their due date compared to those who drank less breast milk.

“This is something that we've known that, for this special population, breast milk is even better,” said Ellen Lechtenberg, Lactation Services Manager at Primary Children’s Hospital.

She says the benefits of breast milk go beyond cognitive development.

“There's another study out that shows that it decreases infection by 50 percent, which is great," she said.

At Primary Children's Hospital, 90 percent of mothers start pumping for their premature babies, but not all of them are successful.

“There's a lot of stress for moms, and many of these moms struggle with their production,” Lechtenberg said.

For women who can’t produce enough milk, they can turn to the “Mother’s Milk Center” at Primary’s.

“We store the pasteurized milk from Denver in our center, and then doctors will order it for the premature babies,” Lechtenberg said.

Researchers plan to conduct more studies to pinpoint exactly how breast milk affects the brain, and to figure out what’s inside the milk that boosts brain development.

Right now there are a couple of milk depots in Utah where donated breast milk is collected and sent to Denver, where it is then processed and distributed. There is an effort underway by Mountain West Mother’s Milk Bank to house a milk bank here in Utah. Organizers hope to open one within the next year or so.