Neonatal Diet- A recent study has demonstrated the significant effect that neonatal diet can have on preterm infants’ long-term cognitive development. Breast milk has long been linked to lower risks of infection and necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) among preterm babies; however, when left unsupplemented it does not meet all their nutritional requirements.
A study published in Pediatric Research sought to explore the effects of neonatal diet on cognitive outcomes among preterm infants.
Preterm infants were randomly assigned either a high nutrient intervention diet – preterm formula (PTF) or standard diet – term formula (TF) or banked donor breast milk (BBM), either as their sole diet or supplement to maternal breast milk (MBM) at ages 7, 15, 20 and 30 years. IQ tests were administered at these ages 7, 15, 20 and 30 years.
Results revealed that an increase in MBM and BBM intake was linked to a lower chance of neonatal infection/NEC, as well as lower Full Scale IQ (FSIQ) and Performance IQ (PIQ) scores at ages 7-30 years.
This relationship between higher intake of MBM at age 7 being partially explained by neonatal infection/NEC; also, the intervention diet resulted in higher Verbal IQ scores compared to standard diet but these effects did not persist through childhood into adulthood.
This study is the first to show the effects of neonatal infection/necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) on IQ in both childhood and adulthood, showing that diet can be a critical factor in long-term cognitive outcome for people born preterm by preventing neonatal infection/NEC and providing adequate nutrients.
Human milk, whether MBM or BBM, has been associated with lower risks of infection/NEC while higher nutrient diets lead to better cognitive development during childhood; performance IQ in particular is susceptible to these effects while verbal IQ benefits from diet quality alone.
These findings have significant ramifications for neonatal care, as diet is an influential modifiable factor that can impact long-term cognitive outcome through its human milk factor, protection from infection/NEC, and nutrient content. This research offers compelling proof that supplementing breast milk with additional nutrients, especially when given to preterm infants, has significant and long-lasting advantages.
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