Breastfeeding Offers This Astonishing Benefit for Premature Babies

A new study finds that a mother's milk helps a preemie's heart to grow and thrive.

Breastfeeding Preemies Can Help Their Hearts Grow haveseen/

A new study has uncovered yet another way breastfeeding benefits babies, in this case, babies born prematurely. Researchers out of Oxford University found that breastfed preemies' hearts actually grew larger and stronger than the hearts of their bottle-fed counterparts.

According to The Telegraph, babies who are born preterm often have smaller-than-average hearts, with smaller chambers, thicker walls and reduced function.

In this study, scientists looked at the hearts of two groups of 102 people; the first had been enrolled in a study of preemies in 1982, while the second was comprised of newly-recruited participants who were born preterm. They found that those who were breastfed had 10 percent larger chambers in their hearts than the people who were bottle-fed. The breastfed group's hearts also beat more strongly.

And so it seems that when it comes to helping preemies develop and thrive, the benefits of breast milk simply have no parallel. Commented Dr. Adam Lewandowski, "Even the best baby formula lacks some of the growth factors, enzymes and antibodies that breast milk provides to developing babies." He added, "These results show that even in people whose premature birth has inevitably affected their development, breastfeeding may be able to improve heart development."

That's pretty incredible when you think about it; that a mother's milk has the power to essentially nurse a child back to health in such a profound way. And we already know breastfeeding offers other benefits to premature babies, so it seems like a no-brainer.

Still, a preemie can have more challenges than a full-term baby when it comes to latching on and getting enough sustenance. If you're the mom of a preemie and breastfeeding is difficult, you may need more support from a lactation specialist, your doctor, and/or friends and family who have been through a similar situation. Don't be afraid to ask!