International research highlights the importance of human milk as medicine for preterm babies

Amsterdam, April 18, 2011 - On the occasion of Medela’s 6th International Breastfeeding and Lactation Symposium, an international panel of scientific experts shared the latest research insights into the value of human milk, especially for preterm babies. 

Scientists highlighted the critical dual function of human milk in offering innate immune protection, as well as providing a comprehensive form of nutrition to support both physical and neurological development.

Dr Paula Meier, Director of Clinical Research and Lactation, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Rush University Medical Center, presented clinical best practices based on her education, research, and evidence-based practice programme, the Rush Mothers’ Milk Club. 

Evidence-based concepts such as the introduction of breastfeeding peer counsellor programmes, and the use of quality electronic pumps and correct size breast shields can go a long way in helping a mother to establish an effective milk supply and provide the medicinal quality of milk to their growing baby.

Dr Meier commented:  “Human milk is medicine for preterm babies, and the only way a mother can be sure her infant will benefit, is to provide her milk.  That’s why health professionals have an important role in ensuring women get the right information at the right time, especially in these often challenging and complex circumstances.”

Dr Donna Geddes, an expert from the Hartmann Human Lactation Research Group, University of Western Australia, demonstrated how ultrasound technology is providing a safe and non-invasive tool for monitoring and understanding the feeding mechanisms of infants. 

Dr Geddes explained “Ultrasound offers us a window of understanding into how a baby removes milk, which in turn, will eventually help us to determine and address the specific challenges facing preterm infants.  The intra-oral vacuum, and suck, swallow, breathe characteristics are critical to successful breastfeeding, and the more we learn about this, the more practical support we can offer to mothers.”

Whilst newborn babies are routinely weighed and measured to check on their development, ultrasound technology is now offering deeper insights into nutrition and body composition. 

Professor Hartmann, together with Dr Geddes and her team, are currently examining how babies process milk, empty the stomach, and control appetite, helping shed new light on gastro-intestinal function, and problems such as colic, reflux and food intolerances. The team are also monitoring and examining body fat (typically higher in preterm infants), which can lead to obesity or cardiovascular problems later in life.

A specific case study was offered by Sharon Perrella, a registered nurse and midwife with 14 years experience in neonatal intensive care nursing, who shared her findings into the use of ultrasound to monitor gastro-intestinal function, which strengthens diagnostic capabilities for gastro-intestinal disease, a major cause of morbidity and mortality amongst preterm infants.

The unique platform of the Medela Symposium, blended both research and practice, to enhance professional development, and offer practical support for the care offered to mothers and infants.

All conference sessions and workshops underlined the importance of ongoing research into lactation - from the perspective of both mother and baby.  Scientists gave insight into new research projects on the benefits and treatment of donor milk for preterm babies, and Professor Peter Hartmann introduced delegates to his innovative research into stem cells in human milk – widely tipped as an area of new discovery that promises to deliver exciting results.

Dr. Leon Mitoulas, Head of Research, Medela AG, concluded:

“We are delighted that this year’s International Breastfeeding and Lactation Symposium has attracted such a distinguished range of speakers who are at the forefront of understanding the science of human milk. Once again, the Symposium has provoked stimulating discussion, and allowed for genuine knowledge transfer across international borders. As more and more women choose breastfeeding and understand its importance, we all share a common commitment to providing support to ensure a successful lactation process.”

About Medela

Medela provides the most technologically advanced, superior-quality breastpumps and breastfeeding accessories to nursing mothers around the world. A longtime champion of breastfeeding, Medela is the only company to develop products based on research by the world's leading lactation experts. As a result, Medela's breastpumps are the number one choice of healthcare professionals and healthcare facilities worldwide.

Medela has developed an extensive line of products to meet the diverse needs of nursing mothers. These products include hospital-grade, double and single electric and manual breastpumps; breastfeeding accessories such as pump cleaning products, breast care products and specialty feeding devices; and maternity and nursing intimate apparel.

Founded in 1961 by Olle Larsson in Zug, Switzerland, Medela continues to grow under the ownership of the Larsson family.


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