Nutritional data on 1,035 extremely low birth weight babies were collected prospectively and the total volume of breast milk feeds during hospitalization calculated. The babies were then assessed at 18 months (corrected age). Multivariate analyses, adjusting for confounders, found that for every 10ml/kg per day increase in breast milk ingestion, the Bayley Mental Development Index increased by 0.53 points, the Psychomotor Development Index increased by 0.63 points, the Behavior Rating Scale percentile score increased by 0.82 points and the likelihood of rehospitalisation decreased by 6%.

The authors conclude that the provision of breastmilk to extremely low birth weight babies is an easy to implement, cost effective intervention that would result in better developmental outcomes, more optimal behaviour, and fewer rehospitalisations. They also hypothesise that optimizing the cognitive potential of extremely low birth weight infants may reduce the need for special education services.

Betty R, Vohr MD, Brenda B et al. Beneficial effects of breast milk in the neonatal intensive care unit on the developmental outcome of extremely low birth weight infants at 18 months of age. Pediatrics 2006; 118: e115-e123