NEC Prevention: Mom’s Own Milk is Liquid Gold


DENVER, Colo. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Most moms have heard the saying that breast milk is best, but for premature infants it just might be a lifesaver. Breast milk is proving to be a powerful weapon against the most common intestinal disease that threatens the lives of these fragile infants. And the sooner breast milk is started the better.

Paxton Kulp surprised everyone when he arrived eleven and a half weeks before his due date. Then came another surprise.  Paxton developed an intestinal disease common in premature and low birth weight infants called Necrotizing Enterocolitis or NEC for short.

“In our research we had seen just how dire it can be for little ones and so, when it was an official diagnosis, it was very, very devastating,” Kulp stated.

What causes NEC is unknown, but doctors do know breast milk is protective. So a team led by Dr. Michelle Feinberg launched a NEC prevention initiative at their neo-natal intensive care unit. The three key parts: early use of breast milk, the addition of probiotics and this state of the art prep room where specially trained techs process and prepare breast milk for each baby.

“They bring those prepared feedings back to the room to again store in the milk fridge for the nurses to then administer to the babies around the clock,” explained Michelle Feinberg, MD, Neonatologist, Saint Joseph Hospital. (Read Full Interview)

By 2013, the hospital’s incidence of NEC dropped from the national average of four percent to less than half of a percent … and has stayed there. The Kulps were lucky; Paxton’s case was mild. He’s fully recovered, healthy and happy.

Dr. Feinberg says commercial infant formula is to be avoided when feeding fragile, premature infants. If a mom doesn’t produce enough breast milk to feed her premature baby, it is supplemented with donor breast milk from approved volunteer donors who participate in a donor breast milk program.

Contributors to this news report include: Field Producer, Irene Maher; Joe Mahoney, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: A premature baby is one who is born before 37 weeks. They may have more health problems and need to stay in the hospital longer than babies born after 37 weeks. About one in ten babies are born prematurely each year in the United States. Some premature babies must spend time in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the area of the hospital that takes care of sick newborns. Some health problems premature babies can have after birth include but are not limited to apnea, respiratory distress syndrome, intraventricular hemorrhage, patent ductus arteriosis, necrotizing enterocolitis, retinopathy of prematurity, jaundice, anemia, infections, or bronchopulmonary dysplasia. A baby can probably be released from the hospital and go home when they weigh at least 4 pounds, can keep warm on their own without the help of an incubator, can breast or bottle-feed, are gaining weight steadily (1/2 to 1 ounce per day), and can breathe on their own. They may require special equipment, treatment or medicine after leaving the hospital.


NECROTIZING ENTEROCOLITIS: Necrotizing enterocolitis or NEC for short, most often affects premature infants and occurs when the tissue of the intestinal track becomes damaged and begins to die. This causes the intestine to become inflamed, and in severe cases a hole may form in the wall of the intestine. If this occurs, bacteria can leak into the abdomen and cause widespread infection. This is considered a medical emergency. It can develop in any newborn within two weeks after birth, but most common in premature infants. Common symptoms include bloating or swelling of the abdomen, diarrhea and bloody stools. The condition can quickly become life-threatening if it’s not properly and immediately treated. Treatment may include antibiotics, intravenous fluids, or even possibly surgery. Once treated, most children will completely recover without complications.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: For a long time, mother’s breast milk has been considered the single most protective factor against developing NEC in babies at risk. Supporting the process of babies being able to receive their mothers’ milk, especially in the early critical stages of premature baby’s life, is the most impactful thing that can be done to help protect such babies. Saint Joseph Hospital in the SCL Health System located in Denver, Colorado has now put into place a state of the art milk preparation lab. All milk that is fed to all the high-risk infants in the NICU goes through careful preparation in this lab. As a result of using breast milk almost exclusively, and having this milk go through this process and be delivered to these babies, thanks to trained experts and nutrition techs, the hospital’s incidence of NEC dropped from the national average of four percent to less than half a percent.

(Sources: Michelle Feinberg, MD)


Michelle Feinberg

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