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Study examines how breastfeeding impacts cost of care for very low birth weight infants

(CHICAGO) The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded nearly $3 million to support Rush University Medical Center's study analyzing how human breast milk impacts the health outcomes and health care cost savings for very low birth weight infants babies less than 1500 grams.

The grant will enable researchers at Rush to conduct a five-year study involving the largest prospective cohort of 600 very low birth weight infants born to racially and economically diverse mothers. The study will have a representative number of African American and low income women enrolled in this study.

"Unlike other institutions with the same demographics, the mothers that give birth at Rush elect to provide breast milk because they are encouraged to think of their milk as 'medicine' for their babies," said Paula Meier, director of clinical research and lactation in the Rush neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and principal investigator of the study.

More than 95 percent of very low birth weight infants in Rush's NICU receive their mothers' breast milk and will be enrolled into the study.

The trial will examine the relationship between the amount, the duration, and the timing of human milk feedings and improved health outcomes for very low birth weight babies hospitalized in the NICU.

Past research indicates that human milk protects very low birth weight infants from prematurity-specific complications that predispose these infants to short-and long-term health problems and increase cost of health care.

"However, no one has conclusively linked the amount and length of time these infants need to be fed human milk in order to lower their health risks and tie it back to cost of care," said Meier.

"For this patient population, human milk is much more important for its therapeutic and medicinal properties rather than nutrition," said Meier. "While these infants are in the NICU, we have a critical window to decrease morbidity rates and risks of severe complications."

The study will follow very low birth weight infants in the Rush NICU to see what effect higher doses of human breast milk and longer periods of exposure during critical periods of hospitalization have on length of stay, infant growth, as well as lowering total NICU costs.

Infants enrolled in the study will receive different amounts of human breast milk during their NICU stay. Data on the variables of dose and exposure period of human breast milk feeding will be collected throughout the infant's entire NICU stay. Researchers also will collect data on short-term costs of providing breast milk such as breast pump rental, total number of storage containers needed and access to lactation experts.

"The findings from this study will be easily translated into health policy that we hope will help shape protocol standards for NICUs and providing care for this vulnerable patient population," said Meier.


Contact: Deborah Song
Rush University Medical Center

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