5 Amazing Facts about Breast Milk and Why it is So Important for Preemies

Human milk for human babies

Did you know?


1. Colostrum is liquid gold! 

  • Colostrum is the thick yellowish “first milk” that is produced in the first few days after your baby is born and is considered a super food for the immune system.
  • Colostrum should be considered an essential medication for premature infants, and if possible every drop should be collected and saved. It is more than just a meal; it is life saving for fragile infants
  • Colostrum contains high concentrations of protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, infection fighting white blood cells, and germ fighting proteins called immunoglobulins.
  • Immunoglobulins are antibodies that help coat the lining of the preterm infant’s immature intestines and help prevent the invasion of germs.

  2. Preterm colostrum is preemie specific!

  • Mothers who deliver prematurely have colostrum longer than those who deliver at term or close to term.
  • Preterm colostrum has the highest concentration of antibodies and has very high concentrations of human growth factors, anti-inflammatory, and anti-infective components; all of which help to mature the premature baby’s intestinal tract.
  • Colostrum is very important for extremely premature infants! During the last trimester of pregnancy, the baby swallows approximately 750ml of amniotic fluid every day. Amniotic fluid has an array of growth factors, anti-inflammatory, and anti-infective components that help to mature the gut during this time. When a baby is born prematurely (and specifically before the 28th week of pregnancy) they miss out on this important event putting them at greater risk for developing a severe and potentially fatal complication called Necrotizing Enterocolitis. (NEC) Colostrum has a profile of anti-inflammatory and anti-infective components that is very similar to that of amniotic fluid. Human milk feedings and specifically colostrum feedings in the early days stimulate rapid growth of the intestinal tract and mucosal lining helping to mature and protect it just like amniotic fluid does while the baby is in utero.

    3. Breast milk contains good bacteria.  

    • With over 130 oligosaccharides, prebiotics and probiotics that are specific to human milk. These good bacteria help colonize the premature baby’s gut with friendly, healthy live cells and antibodies. These antibodies help the growth of good pathogens and help to protect against severe intestinal inflammation and an infection called Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) that can be very devastating to a premature baby.
    • According to studies, premature babies who are fed human milk rather than formula are twenty (20) times less likely to develop NEC.

    4. Breast milk helps the digestive tract.

    • Human milk contains something called epidermal growth factor (EGF) which stimulates the growth of the cells that line the intestines, making them more efficient at digesting food. Because the premature infant’s intestinal lining is immature, it makes it very difficult to digest fat, which is essential for growth.
    • Human milk contains an enzyme called lipase that helps break down the fat in the intestines so that it can be absorbed.
    • Premature intestines also have decreased lactase, which is an enzyme that helps digest carbohydrates and sugars. Human milk contains lactase that helps aid in this digestion making it easier for the baby to absorb these vital nutrients that are needed for growth and development.


    5. Breast milk is a brain builder.

    • Human milk contains the perfect mix of special fats that aid in the development of the brain and the eyes.
    • A brain building amino acid called taurine is found in high concentration in breast milk and helps with retinal (eye) development.
    • Human milk also contains brain building polyunsaturated fatty acids called DHA and ARA. These are commonly known as the "smart fats". These smart fats are very important for the production of myelin, which is the fatty layer that insulates the nerves. DHA and ARA help the premature baby's brain grow as it would have in the last few important weeks of pregnancy.


    Human milk is more than just a meal! It has so many powerful benefits that help the preterm baby not only grow and survive, but thrive in the NICU. Human milk helps reduce many other serious preterm complications and should be considered an essential part of neonatal care.



    NCBI PMC. “Improving the Use of Human Milk During and After the NICU Stay” 1 March 2011 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2859690/

    American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk  in PEDIATRICS Vol. 115 No. 2 February 2005, pp. 496-506.

    American Academy of Pediatrics’ Schanler RJ. "The use of human milk for premature infants." Pediatr Clin North Am. 2001;48 :207 –219

    American Baby.  "5 Facts About Nursing a Preemie"  23 May 2005.  HowStuffWorks.com. http://lifestyle.howstuffworks.com/family/parenting/babies/five-facts-about-nursing-a-preemie.htm  September 2014.

    La Leche League International. "FAQ: Is Breastfeeding Important for my Premature Baby?" Sept. 10, 2009 http://www.llli.org/FAQ/premimportant.html

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