Submitted to: Journal of Nutrition
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 25, 1999
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: It is apparent that human milk has a protective effect on premature infants, who benefit from a reduced incidence of infection and NEC. Both entities are associated with immaturity of the gastrointestinal tract. The modifying effects of human milk on the premature infant's gastrointestinal tract is important and the subject of the following reports.
Technical Abstract: The recommendation to feed term infants human milk, based on the nutritional benefits, contributions to host defense and gastrointestinal growth, as well as psychological benefits of maternal-infant bonding, has been extended to the premature infant (American Academy of Pediatrics and Work Group on Breastfeeding 1997). Human milk may be of special benefit to the premature infant because of the interrelationships among nutritional support, gastrointestinal maturity, and host defense. In particular, the high rates of infection and septicemia in the immunosuppressed premature infant are the direct results of exposure to the numerous pathogens in the nursery environment. In addition, circulatory instability and apnea are common factors that are thought to interact with feeding and bacterial colonization to contribute to the development of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Thus, by incorporating both nutritional and host defense benefits, human milk may protect the premature infant.