Nutritional Support
March 1, 2021

The Importance of Breastfeeding for NICU Babies

Breastfeeding has a wide range of health benefits for newborns, particularly newborns in the NICU.
Breastfeeding has a wide range of health benefits for newborns, particularly newborns in the NICU.

Becoming a new mother comes with a lot of questions, both big and small. What kind of mom will I be? Will I work after the baby is born or stay at home? How will I survive the Terrible Twos? Luckily, the answers to all these questions will emerge in due time! However, there’s one question that must be answered sooner rather than later: will I breastfeed my newborn?

The Great Debate: Breastfeeding vs. Formula

Breastfeeding and formula feeding each have pros and cons. The general consensus among medical professionals is that breastfeeding is better for babies, but some mothers must use only formula or supplement their breast milk with formula for various reasons. It’s up to each individual mother (and their doctors) to determine which approach works best for them and their baby, but the good news is that babies can get all the vital nutrients they need from either breast milk or formula.

Breast milk includes hundreds of nutrients and natural antibodies that help babies resist illness and infection. Babies also tend to have an easy time digesting breast milk, so they’ll be less gassy and constipated after feedings. One unique benefit of breastfeeding is that breast milk is a living fluid, meaning it can adapt to your baby’s changing needs. For example, if your baby becomes ill, your body can make extra white blood cells and antibodies that travel through your milk naturally and help your baby fight infection.

If breastfeeding is not possible, formula feeding is a good alternative. It ensures your baby gets the nutrients they need with the added benefit of increased flexibility. Formula-fed babies can be fed by anyone at any time, and because formula isn’t digested as quickly as breast milk is, formula-fed babies don’t have to be fed as frequently. While the health benefits of breastfeeding are unmatched, formula feeding typically makes it easier to schedule feedings.

What Are the Health Benefits of Breastfeeding?

Ninety percent of breast milk is water, which is key to keeping your baby hydrated, but the remaining 10% is packed with essential nutrients that have considerable health benefits for infants. Breast milk includes antibodies that protect against illness, enzymes and beneficial bacteria that support the immune and digestive systems, white blood cells that fight infection, long-chain fatty acids that help your baby’s brain, nervous system, and eyes develop, and much more. Breast milk even includes hormones that regulate appetite and promote bonding between mother and baby.

Breastfeeding can also reduce the chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and reduce your baby’s risk of developing serious health conditions in the future like diabetes, high cholesterol, Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, and lymphoma.

In short, the benefits of breastfeeding are advantageous for any newborn, but they’re particularly important for infants in the NICU. In fact, human milk is considered to be crucial for protecting premature infants from serious complications and helping them grow. Higher amounts of breast milk during an infant’s NICU stay are even linked to better neurodevelopmental outcomes and a lower risk of rehospitalization.

Supporting Breastfeeding in the NICU

With so many health benefits, it’s natural for mothers to want to breastfeed their babies while they’re in the NICU. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible due to a variety of factors. As the market leader in milk banking, pasteurizing, and processing solutions in the United States, Kentec Medical is committed to supporting breastfeeding in the NICU. Years of research and development have gone into our wide variety of milk management products, including our sealers, jars, and milk dispensing pumps. We’re passionate about ensuring infants in the NICU get the breast milk they need, even if their mothers cannot give it to them personally.

In addition to Kentec Medical’s standard offerings, we’re proud to unveil our new Koala Nutritional Warmer. Designed by a former NICU nurse, the Koala is an easy-to-use warmer that uses an integrated temperature feedback loop to warm milk without damaging its nutrients and fortifiers. Vibration provides even heating, the unique two-pouch design allows you to warm more milk in less time, and convenient LED lights let you know when the milk is ready.

We can help procurement managers get products like the Koala Warmer into their hospitals without any hassle so babies in the NICU can start experiencing the benefits of breastfeeding as soon as possible. We know that unmatched customer service is the key to providing value, delivering a better healthcare experience, and improving patient outcomes in NICUs around the world. That’s why we’ll be there for you every step of the way as you implement our milk management products.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Kentec Medical can help you support breastfeeding in the NICU, contact us today.

Works Cited

  • Birch E et al. Breast-feeding and optimal visual development. J Pediatr Ophthalmol Strabismus. 1993;30(1):33-38.
  • Deoni SC et al. Breastfeeding and early white matter development: A cross-sectional study. Neuroimage. 2013;82:77-86.
  • Hassiotou F et al. Maternal and infant infections stimulate a rapid leukocyte response in breastmilk. Clin Transl Immunology. 2013;2(4):e3.
  • Lönnerdal B. Nutritional and physiologic significance of human milk proteins. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(6):1537S-1543S.
  • Pannaraj PS et al. Association Between Breast Milk Bacterial Communities and Establishment and Development of the Infant Gut Microbiome. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(7):647-654.
  • Savino F et al. Breast milk hormones and their protective effect on obesity. Int J Pediatr Endocrinol. 2009;2009:327505.