There’s been historic controversy regarding the health benefits of breastfeeding for infants. Holistic minded individuals in general consider breastfeeding the optimum food choice for infants, which helps promote a healthy immune system and protect babies from disease. Recently a study and press release was made public that also advocates the use of breast milk for infants in neonatal care units, being treated for congenital heart disease.
Use of breast milk for infants in neonatal care units being treated for CHD
Treatment of infants in the hospital is a scenario that often promotes the use of formula for feeding, at least during the time of treatment. But this study questions whether this practice should be changed. The press release is reprinted below in its entirety from the National Association of Neonatal Nurses.
Study questions the first line treatment of infants in the hospital using formula for feeding
With a lower risk of serious complications and improved feeding and growth outcomes, human milk is strongly preferred as the best diet for infants with congenital heart disease (CHD), according to a research review in Advances in Neonatal Care, official journal of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses.
The benefits of human milk and breast-feeding for infants with CHD
Jessica A. Davis, BSN, RN, CCRN, IBCLC, of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Diane L. Spatz PhD, RN-BC, FAAN, of University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Philadelphia, reviewed and analyzed six studies on the benefits of human milk and breast-feeding for infants with CHD. They conclude, “Due to the overwhelming evidence of improved outcomes related to human milk feeing for critically ill infants, human milk should be considered a medical intervention for infants with CHD.”
‘Mother’s Own Milk’ Recommended Feeding for Babies with CHD
Congenital heart disease is the most common category of birth defects, diagnosed in an estimated 1 in 1,000 newborns and infants each year. But while the benefits of human milk for premature and healthy infants are well documented, there is limited data on its role in improving outcomes for infants with CHD. The researchers examined evidence on the benefits of human milk on key outcomes for infants with CHD.
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious complication in which there is damage to the intestines. Based on studies showing that an exclusively human milk diet can reduce the incidence of NEC in premature infants, the same recommendation applies to infants with CHD.
- Chylothorax is a rare complication of chest surgery characterized by abnormal drainage of lymph fluid around the lungs, with a risk of severe adverse outcomes. Studies have shown that skimming the fat from the mother’s own milk allows infants to continue receiving a human milk diet during treatment for chylothorax.
- Infants with CHD are also at risk of feeding difficulties leading to inadequate growth and weight gain. Studies have shown that a diet of human milk can improve weight gain in infants with heart disease. But due to other pressing concerns in these critically infants, breastfeeding or alternative approaches to providing human milk are often not viewed as a high priority.
“Human milk is important to protect the infant with CHD from infection, decrease the risk of NEC, improve feeding tolerance, and protect the infant’s brain/improve developmental outcomes,” Ms. Davis and Dr. Spatz write. Based on this evidence, they believe that healthcare professionals have an ethical duty to help families make an informed decision about feeding for their infant with CHD,
Dr. Spatz’s 10-step model to promote and protect human milk feeding and breastfeeding for infants with CHD
The authors outline Dr. Spatz’s 10-step model to promote and protect human milk feeding and breastfeeding for infants with CHD. Recommendations include steps to ensure initiation and maintenance of the mother’s milk supply, either by breastfeeding or pumping. If necessary, pasteurized donated human milk can serve as a bridge to the mother’s own milk.
Other steps including ensuring skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible after birth and supporting mothers’ ability to breastfeed and monitor their infant’s milk intake and growth.
‘A life-saving intervention for infants with CHD’
“Human milk is a life-saving intervention for infants with CHD and health professionals must prioritize helping families to make an informed feeding decision and ensure that mothers of infants with CHD can reach their personal breastfeeding goals,” states Dr. Spatz.
- Jessica A. Davis, Diane L. Spatz. Human Milk and Infants With Congenital Heart Disease. Advances in Neonatal Care, 2018; 1 DOI: 10.1097/ANC.0000000000000582
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.