Persistent Beneficial Effects of Breast Milk Ingested in the NICU on Outcomes of ELBW Infants at 30 Months of Age

Betty R. Vohr, MD, Brenda B. Poindexter, MD, MS, Anna M. Dusick, MD, Leslie T. McKinley, MS, RD, Rosemary D. Higgins, MD, John C. Langer, MS, W. Kenneth Poole, PhD

PEDIATRICS Vol. 120 No. 4 October 2007, pp. e953-e959


BACKGROUND. We previously reported beneficial effects of breast milk ingestion by infants with extremely low birth weight in the NICU on developmental outcomes at 18 months’ corrected age. The objective of this study was to determine whether these effects of breast milk in infants with extremely low birth weight persisted at 30 months’ corrected age.

METHODS. Nutrition data, including enteral and parenteral feeds, were prospectively collected, and 30 months’ corrected age follow-up assessments were completed on 773 infants with extremely low birth weight who participated in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Neonatal Research Network Glutamine Trial. A total of 593 ingested some breast milk during the neonatal hospitalization, and 180 ingested none. Neonatal feeding characteristics and morbidities and 30-month interim history, neurodevelopmental outcomes, and growth parameters were analyzed. Children were divided into quintiles of breast milk volume to evaluate the effects of volume of human milk ingested during the NICU hospitalization.

RESULTS. At 30 months, increased ingestion of breast milk was associated with higher Bayley Mental Developmental Index scores, higher Bayley behavior score percentiles for emotional regulation, and fewer rehospitalizations between discharge and 30 months. There were no differences in growth parameters or cerebral palsy. For every 10 mL/kg per day increase in breast milk, the Mental Developmental Index increased by 0.59 points, the Psychomotor Developmental Index by 0.56 points, and the total behavior percentile score by 0.99 points, and the risk of rehospitalization between discharge and 30 months decreased by 5%.

CONCLUSIONS. Beneficial effects of ingestion of breast milk in the NICU persist at 30 months’ corrected age in this vulnerable extremely low birth weight population. Continued efforts must be made to offer breast milk to all extremely low birth weight infants both in the NICU and after discharge.

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