Researchers study optimum conditions to administer human milk to premature babies

Giving human milk to premature babies is recommended by the WHO for at least six months in order to provide, as well as nutrients, key antimicrobial substances for these babies, who are born with low weight or can be immunosuppressed.

In premature babies, it is administered through a nasogastric tube. These newborns are a group at risk of being infected by pathogens such as Cronobacter sakazakii. Researchers of the CEU Cardenal Herrera University have studied the optimum conditions to administer human milk through nasogastric tubes to premature babies in newborn nurseries in order to decrease the risk of infection by this bacterium, recommending that it is not administered for more than three and a half hours. Their work has been recognized by the Association for the Promotion and scientific and cultural Research on Breastfeeding (APILAM), as the best of 173 pieces of research submitted to the tenth edition of the Spanish Breastfeeding Congress held in Santiago de Compostela.

The study has been carried out by the directors of the Resarch Group of Human Nutrition and Food Safety of the CEU UCH, Dolores Silvestre Castelló and Mari Carmen López Mendoza, as well as research professor Sandra Fernández Pastor, who presented the study at the Congress. As the latter explains, "the Cronobacter sakazakii bacterium is a pathogen linked to outbreaks of infection caused by consuming powdered formulas for infants which causes meningitis, sepsis and necrotizing enteritis. Mortality rates of 40 to 80% have been registered, and the survivors typically suffer from severe neurological effects. The contamination of human milk by this same bacterium has recently been documented, which is why we decided to analyze for the first time the optimum conditions for administering this donated milk to premature infants in neonatology units, in order to decrease the risk of infection."

To do so, the research team of the UCH CEU inoculated this microorganism into samples of human milk kept in nasogastric tube administration conditions: 22ºC of temperature and for 4 hours. The samples were then placed on APC agar plates every 30 minutes, and then all the plates were incubated in order to finally recount and observe the behavior of the microorganism during these 4 hours in 30-minute intervals.

We observed that at the 4-hour mark, pathogen cells had doubled compared to the beginning, making the differences significant. Therefore, as well as taking greater hygiene precautions to prevent contamination by the microorganism, we also recommend decreasing the administration time in newborn nurseries to 3.5 hours, before the bacteria starts increasing its proliferation."

Professor Sandra Fernández

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