A better start to life for preterm babies

26 Oct 2020
A better start to life for preterm babies

Preterm babies could be given a better start to life thanks to research at SAHMRI that’s being supported by the Ramaciotti Foundation’s 2020 Health Investment Grants.

Led by Associate Professor Alice Rumbold and Associate Professor Amy Keir from SAHMRI Women and Kids, this project will investigate whether donor human milk can improve the nutrition and growth of moderate-to-late preterm infants who are born between 32 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.

“When mothers of very preterm babies born before 32 weeks have difficulty breastfeeding, it’s become standard practice to give pasteurised donor human milk and we know this improves health outcomes,” Associate Professor Keir said.

“Currently though, it is not given to moderate-to-late preterm infants as the benefits for this group have not been studied.”

Each year in Australia almost 10 % of babies arrive too soon. Babies born between 32 and 36 weeks make up the majority of these births. They often have difficulty breastfeeding and their mothers can find it hard to produce enough breast milk.

“They are often given infant formula when there is not enough maternal breast milk available,” Associate Professor Rumbold said.

“This can be difficult to digest for these babies as their gut is often not fully developed. We desperately need well-designed studies to answer key questions about whether donor human milk will give them a healthier start to life and support their mothers to begin or continue breastfeeding.”

SAHMRI is partnering with Australian Red Cross Lifeblood to undertake this potentially life-changing research. Donated milk is currently prioritised for extremely and very preterm infants but researchers hope this new project will determine whether there is a benefit in making it available for all babies who arrive too soon.

“We’re so grateful to the Ramaciotti Health Investment Grant Board for recognising this vital work and providing the funding to make it happen,” Associate Professor Rumbold said.

“This kind of support not only helps us directly but enables us to leverage additional funding from other partners and benefactors.”

Complications relating to preterm birth are the leading cause of disability in Australian children aged under five years old. Infants born moderate to late preterm are at increased risk of neurological, behavioural and psychiatric problems, with the impact lasting well into adulthood.