Human milk reduces the risk of retinal detachment in extremely low-birthweight infants

Okamoto T, Shirai M, Kokubo M, Takahashi S, Kajino M, Takase M, Sakata H, Oki J.

Pediatrics International 49 (6), 894–897.


Background: Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a major cause of blindness in children. Because the use of oxygen is a known risk factor for development of ROP, supplemental oxygen is used carefully. However, it does not necessarily reduce the morbidity of ROP-induced blindness. The aim of the present study was to identify the possible risk factors for progression to retinal detachment, a most relevant cause of visual impairment, in extremely low-birthweight infants (ELBWI).

Methods: The medical records of the 42 ELBWI who were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit in Asahikawa Kosei Hospital from April 1999 to March 2004 were retrospectively reviewed. Seven infants (16.7% of the ELBWI) developed retinal detachment and two of them became blind. Perinatal and postnatal variables in these infants with retinal detachment were compared with those in infants without retinal detachment.

Results: A striking difference in the daily intake of human milk was found between the infants with or without retinal detachment when their gestational ages at birth were matched. The infants without retinal detachment were fed more human milk (67–83% volume of total nutritional intake) as compared to those with retinal detachment (24–38% volume of total nutritional intake) at a specific postnatal period, 5–7 weeks postnatal age.

Conclusions: Human milk may contain some beneficial factors to reduce the severity of ROP. Identifying these factors in human milk may contribute to development of a strategy to rescue premature infants from blindness.