DOCTORS in Southampton have found an eight-week nutrient supplement for breastfeeding mums can help prevent weight loss and boost the growth of premature babies after they leave hospital.

Almost half (45%) of babies born prematurely – before 37 weeks – suffer from growth failure due to additional dietary requirements which cannot be met through breastfeeding alone.

Currently it is standard practice across the UK is to provide exclusively breastfed preterm babies with a protein and mineral-packed supplement, known as breast milk fortifier, during their time on neonatal units to complement mothers’ breast milk while it is delivered via a nasogastric tube.

However, this is usually stopped prior to discharge from hospital when babies transition to oral breast milk feeds and, as breast milk fortifier supplements are not prescribed by GPs, the additional nutrients they need are largely obtained from bottle-fed formula.

“Preterm infants are so vulnerable and breastfeeding is encouraged to best support premature babies’ needs but breast milk alone doesn’t always meet their increased dietary requirements,” said Dr Luise Marino, clinical academic paediatric dietitian at Southampton Children’s Hospital. Breast milk fortifier contains extra protein and minerals such as phosphorus and calcium to promote bone growth but it is currently stopped before premature babies are discharged home.

They recommended that four sachets of milk fortifier were added to 40 millilitres of expressed breast milk, with five millilitres administered orally before each breastfeed or eight times per day.

The quality improvement study found use of the fortifier after leaving hospital prevented a dip in babies’ weight and resulted in better growth at eight weeks and then at a year.

Dr Marino added: “In this small group of infants, this method appeared to improve growth while also supporting, promoting and protecting breastfeeding in this vulnerable population group.”