YOUR HEALTH: Mother’s milk really can be life-saving

DENVER, Colorado – Most moms have heard the saying that breast milk is best, but for premature infants it just might be a lifesaver.

Paxton Kulp surprised everyone when he arrived eleven and a half weeks before his due date.

Then came another surprise.  Paxton developed an intestinal disease common in premature and low birth weight infants called necrotizing enterocolitis.

NEC, for short.

"In our research, we had seen just how dire it can be for little ones and so, when it was an official diagnosis, it was very, very devastating," said Paxton's mother, Meghan Kulp.

What causes NEC is unknown, but doctors do know breast milk is protective.

So a team led by Dr. Michelle Feinberg launched a NEC prevention initiative at a neo-natal intensive care unit.

The three key parts: early use of breast milk, the addition of probiotics and this state of the art prep room where specially trained techs process and prepare breast milk for each baby.

"They bring those prepared feedings back to the room to again store in the milk fridge for the nurses to then administer to the babies around the clock," explained Dr. Michelle Feinburg, a neonatologist with St. Joseph Hospital in Denver.

By 2013, the hospital`s incidence of NEC dropped from the national average of four percent to less than half-of-one-percent and has stayed there.

NECROTIZING ENTEROCOLITIS:  Necrotizing enterocolitis or NEC for short, most often affects premature infants and occurs when the tissue of the intestinal track becomes damaged and begins to die. This causes the intestine to become inflamed, and in severe cases a hole may form in the wall of the intestine. If this occurs, bacteria can leak into the abdomen and cause widespread infection. This is considered a medical emergency. It can develop in any newborn within two weeks after birth, but most common in premature infants. Common symptoms include bloating or swelling of the abdomen, diarrhea and bloody stools. The condition can quickly become life-threatening if it`s not properly and immediately treated. Treatment may include antibiotics, intravenous fluids, or even possibly surgery. Once treated, most children will completely recover without complications.  (Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/necrotizing-enterocolitis#overview1)

The Kulps were lucky,  Paxton's case was mild.

He's fully recovered, healthy and happy.

Dr. Feinberg says commercial infant formula is to be avoided when feeding fragile, premature infants.

If a mom doesn't produce enough breast milk to feed her premature baby, it is supplemented with donor breast milk from approved volunteer donors who participate in a donor breast milk program.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.