A new study finds that even when moms can’t breastfeed their preemies, they may still be able to provide beneficial bacteria from their own breastmilk.
The health benefits of breastmilk for preterm infants have been well-established. Not only has human milk been shown to protect against infection and improve immunity in this highly vulnerable population, but the composition of preterm milk is different than that of term babies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that preterm infants receive their mother’s own milk (MOM) when possible. However, some moms with preterm babies may face barriers to breastfeeding. While some are unable to breastfeed, others may have difficulty establishing a robust milk supply. When MOM is unavailable, donor breast milk (DBM) is preferred as the next best option.
Breast milk contains several microbes that are unique to each mother-baby pair. In fact, up to 200 different bacterial species have been found in human milk. Donor breast milk is pasteurized for safety. While pasteurization kills 99% of bacteria, it also inactivates many of the beneficial components of breast milk.
Researchers at the University of Florida Gainesville showed that by using a small amount of a mother’s breast milk to inoculate pasteurized donor breast milk, it is possible to reestablish the beneficial naturally occurring microbes in the milk.
The pilot study consisted of twelve mothers who had delivered a baby at less than 32 weeks’ gestation, and whose babies weighed less than 3.3 pounds at birth. The moms were able to express at least 45 mL with each session and at least 100 mL of breast milk per day.
Related Study: Skin-to-Skin Contact With Preemies Helps Development
The study found that the best strategy to restore the microbiota was to incubate the donor breast milk with 10 percent of the mother’s own milk for a period of four hours.
Further, the study also examined the difference in the milk microbiome between infants born via cesarean section and those born vaginally. The study found that although each mother’s milk varies, C-section and vaginal deliveries have particular bacterial clusters unique to each birth mode.
The study is very promising for moms of preterm infants. Each mother has a unique milk microbiota. If new moms can express even small amounts of breastmilk, they could restore the microbiome in donor breast milk. This process would allow their new babies to receive milk that is more personalized for their growing needs.