For premature infants, adequate growth while in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is an indicator of better long-term health and developmental outcomes, researchers said.
Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have now successfully incorporated a cream supplement into premature infants' diets that improved their growth outcomes in the NICU.
"For premature babies who weigh less than 1,000 grammes, one of the problems is that their lungs and other organs are still developing when they are born. If the infant gains weight and increases in length at a good rate while in the NICU, this helps improve their outcomes," said Dr Amy Hair, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor and first author of the study.
Previous research has shown that an exclusive human milk diet protects the intestines of premature infants and supports their growth.
In this study, researchers sought a way to optimise this growth in very small infants (those who weigh between 750 and 1,250 grammes) who need additional calories.
Because infants are already receiving enough protein from the fortifier, another way to help them grow is by giving them fat.
One of the byproducts of pasteurising donor milk is milk fat, also referred to as a cream supplement.
Researchers compared the growth outcomes of infants who received the exclusive human milk diet and the cream supplement to infants who received just the exclusive human milk diet.
They found that infants in the cream group had better growth outcomes in terms of weight and length than infants in the control group.
"This is a natural way to give them fat. Previously, we would add oils or infant formula to help premature babies grow, but we can now use a natural source from donor milk," said Hair.
Hair noted that because the growth was both in weight and length, this growth is likely lean mass, consisting of bone and muscle growth.
"You want to see babies growing in both weight and length," said Hair.
She also noted that the volume of milk given to these infants cannot change to help them grow because their stomach and intestine can only tolerate a certain amount of feedings.
The research appears in The Journal of Pediatrics.