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“Breast is best” is familiar advice for new mothers and infant health care providers.  But what about mothers of preemies, who often struggle to produce enough milk for their fragile newborns?

Benefits of Human Milk for Preemies

A new video from the National Coalition for Infant Health, “Why Preemies Need Access to an Exclusive Human Milk Diet,” explains how a diet of only human milk and human milk-derived products helps preemies by:

It can also shield preemies from a life-threatening intestinal condition, necrotizing enterocolitis, the video notes. NEC, as it’s called, can damage an infant’s intestinal tissue, causing a distended abdomen, respiratory failure and septic shock.  Invasive surgery often follows, though some preemies still do not survive.

An exclusive human-milk diet consists of breastmilk from the infant’s mother or a screened donor. It is supplemented by a fortifier derived from human milk.  Fortifiers, the video explains, provide the added calories and nutrients that preemies require.

Access Challenges

The benefits of such a diet are well established.  But that does not mean the diet is readily available to all preemies.

Some hospitals may not have donor milk or human milk-based fortifier for preemies whose mothers struggle to produce breastmilk.  And health plans don’t necessarily provide hospital-grade breast pumps – or cover the cost of donor milk and fortifier.

Desperate parents may, the video explains, turn to unscreened sources of human milk through online sales points such as Craigslist.  Or their frustration may lead them simply to forego the benefits of human milk for their newborn.

The video urges policymakers to work alongside parents and health care providers to provide the access and health plan coverage that premature infants need.

For more, watch “Why Preemies Need Access to an Exclusive Human Milk Diet” or read the Institute for Patient Access’ 2015 policy brief on the issue by Mitchell Goldstein, MD.

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