Breastmilk benefits preterm babies’ brain development

By Hollie Ewers on 25 September 2018 Breastfeeding Infant Feeding Premature Birth Research

Breastfeeding premature babies results in infants’ better brain development than feeding with formula, a study finds. 

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied MRI brain scans from 47 babies from a study group known as the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort.

The babies had been born before 33 weeks’ gestation and scans took place when they reached term-equivalent age, an average of 40 weeks from conception.

The team also collected information about how the infants had been fed while in intensive care – either formula milk or breastmilk from either the mother or a donor.

Babies who exclusively received breastmilk for at least three-quarters of the days they spent in hospital showed improved brain connectivity compared with others.

The effects were greatest in babies who were fed breastmilk for a greater proportion of their time spent in intensive care.

RCM professional policy advisor Clare Livingstone said it was the latest study in a large and growing amount of evidence about the benefits to the mother and baby from breastfeeding. 

‘It may of course not be possible or appropriate to breastfeed a premature baby who may be in intensive care.

However, as the authors state, we should be supporting mothers to give their premature babies breastmilk if at all possible and if that is their choice,’ she said.

The study was funded by the charity Theirworld and was carried out in the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory at the University's Medical Research Council Centre for Reproductive Health. 

The study, available here, is published in the journal NeuroImage.