Putting Your Breast Milk Under the Microscope
A new program in California tests new mothers’ milk to help preemies thrive
Oh boy. I’m pretty into healthy eating, but something about this level of screening makes me nervous. A new pilot program has started in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of a California hospital. They’re studying the breast milk of mothers who have delivered premature babies to ensure these infants are getting the nutrition they need. Since preemies need to gain a lot of weight and fast to avoid development delays, this research is supposed to help determine whether “supplements” are necessary in addition to breast milk.
Here’s how it works. A sample of the new mother’s milk is studied then broken down into its components so doctors know just how much protein, fat and carbohydrates are included and in what ratio. “This analysis lets us know which babies may need nutritional supplements, in addition to their mothers’ milk,” said Charles F. Simmons Jr., MD, chair of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Pediatrics and director of the Division of Neonatology. “We hope this additional information could lead to more rapid weight gain and a quicker release from the hospital for these premature infants.”
Since the only way to know whether babies were getting the nutrition they needed from breast milk before was to track their weight gain, this seems very sophisticated. My only hesitation, if I were a mom in this study, would be what’s done with the information. If my milk were considered sub-par, would doctors suggest that I eat more nutritious food? Is more spinach the answer? (And could they tell that I ate a whole carton of mint chip ice cream last week?) Or would I feel embarrassed, like I already failed at being a good mom? Would they suggest formula right away, which might make it hard for me to continue breastfeeding, because to be honest, it’s not the easiest thing for most of us to do anyway? I know the professionals are trying to do the right thing, to get those premature babies fully developed so they can go home, but it seems a little judgy for new moms.
We’ll see how this pilot program goes, and whether doctors elsewhere start using this kind of evaluation for non-premature births too. I’m having a baby in May and certainly hope that my breast milk isn’t going to be put under a microscope. But I might lay off the chocolate in the meantime, just in case.
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