9 Human Milk Post Resources for NICU Professionals

Evi Dewhurst / June 2016


The NICU and human milk go hand in hand. This healthcare dynamic is how hospital professionals can help mothers connect to their preterm and at-risk infants, and how they can influence provision of the best nutrition to improve patient outcomes, discharge time, and even hospital budget.

Where can a NICU professional go to find additional resources on human milk composition, outcomes, collection, storage and delivery? We’ve got the answer for you: the Neonatal Perspectives Blog.

Current posts and our archives are full of in-depth human milk posts covering a broad range of information around this fascinating topic: Human milk differences by pre-term or term birth, ways to increase milk production for preterm mothers, how NICU nurses can take charge of human milk in their unit, the economic impact of human milk on NICU patients, and more. The list goes on.

We’ve compiled nine popular human milk blogs from the past twelve months in order to provide an instant resource to locate infographics, clinical perspectives, research references, and more. Grab a cup of coffee and prepare for a deep dive into these 9 absorbing human milk posts written specifically for healthcare professionals just like you.

1.     4 Amazing Ways Preterm Human Milk Differs From Term Human Milk

What makes preterm human milk so special for infants who are born too early? How does a mother’s early birth experience and her own biology impact her breast milk composition? There are many answers to those questions. Today we are focusing on a few specific ways the human body helps to compensate for an early birth, and minimize the increased health risks that come with it, through the advantages of human milk.

2.     Initiate, Build and Maintain Human Milk in the NICU

Unfortunately, prematurity does not always allow infants to feed at the breast. As a result, mothers find it necessary to employ breast expression techniques that allow them to provide sufficient volumes of breast milk for their infants. This provision of human milk requires a coordinated effort between mothers wishing to express their milk and the clinicians who provide care to them. Clinicians find it necessary to search for evidence-based technology and practices that will ensure mothers provide an adequate supply of human milk for their infants.

This post is written for all clinicians who work with pump dependent mothers. It is meant to provide a brief overview of best pumping practices that help to ensure pump-dependent mothers initiate, build and maintain adequate volumes of human milk for their premature infants.

3.     NICU Nurses and the Responsibility of Human Milk

Neonatal intensive care nurses are increasingly called upon to participate in the management of human milk in their unit. They even actively educate mothers on best practices to pump breast milk for their infants. Why is that, you ask? One reason is this: Research by Hallowell and colleagues demonstrated that only 50% of NICUs had lactation consultants working in the NICU on any shift1. Occasionally clinical lactation support is limited, which can leave a mother without easy access to information or resources. The job then falls to someone else to help mothers along with their breastfeeding or pumping goals. NICU nurses are the logical solution to this, especially because they understand the importance of human milk to their neonatal patients’ health outcomes. They are also in the ideal situation to have consistent interactions with parents which will build trust.

4.     Human Milk: The Original Personalized Medicine

The realization that new mothers of preterm infants get when they may not have enough mother’s own milk (MOM) for their child is a highly stressful event and one that now can be increasingly bridged by the use of donor human milk. A crisis and conflict forms because very low birth weight infants getting only preterm formula for the first few weeks of life have been shown to fare worse, with higher risks of developing necrotizing enterocolitis and/or sepsis than infants feeding human milk. 

The rapidly increasing availability of donor human milk from commercial and non-profit sources enables more mothers to have access to human milk while they are challenged to make their own. There are increasing concerns however that in some cases access to donor human milk provides a crutch for mothers and healthcare professionals to avoid the hard work and added costs of lactation and pumping milk for their babies. 

5.     New Infographic Tool | Human Milk: The NICU Economic Story

Human milk is not only an amazing source of nutrition for all neonatal patients, but also a valuable tool in the NICU for improved outcomes and reduced costs, especially for very low birth weight infants. Many studies have demonstrated human milk’s dramatic impact on necrotizing enterocolitis, sepsis and even retinopathy of prematurity in neonatal patients.

Now we have a new infographic to visually demonstrate this information, which portrays “Human Milk: The NICU Economic Story” specifically around very low birth weight infant data. Read on for some startling and impactful statistics which may just help you shape your human milk program this year.

6.     Breastfeeding in the NICU: Is it Valued Enough?

Most NICU nurses today agree that breast milk is at least important in the immediate period and particularly as related to prevention of necrotizing enterocolitis. It may sometimes be difficult to understand why the promotion of breastfeeding is such a challenge in the NICU. I have recently come across a study by Cricco-Lizza11 that puts this into perspective. This is an ethnographic study that reports the results of interviews with nurses in a Level IV or highest level NICU. This NICU had recently had some breastfeeding education but not all staff attended this education. The purpose of the study was to examine everyday practice values and explore how breastfeeding promotion fits into this.

7.     Infographic: Benefits of Human Milk

Human milk is a nutritional dynamo for term and preterm infants. It is composed of nutritive and non-nutritive bioactive factors which combine into a unique resource tailored specifically for human infants. This resource promotes survival and healthy development in a variety of ways.

This month our Medela education team has created an informative infographic to show how amazing human milk properties stack up next to infant formula.

8.     Human Milk Cost Savings for Very Low Birth Weight Infants

What can we do to improve health outcomes and reduce costs for very low birth weight (VLBW, birth weight (BW) < 1500g) infants, who frequently have very long stays in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)?

These infants are more susceptible to morbidities, including late onset sepsis, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), chronic lung disease and severe retinopathy of prematurity. Preventing an infant from acquiring one or more of these morbidities thereby improves outcomes, reduces the NICU length of stay and ultimately decreases costs. One safe, effective and low cost strategy to reduce the prevalence of these morbidities is the use of human milk feedings during the NICU hospitalization.

9.     Pumping up the Volume in the NICU

The message is very clear now: Human babies drink human milk! In every talk I give, and every NICU I visit, I see a greater commitment to using mother’s own milk over infant formula. The rising use of human milk in the NICU is the major driver for the commercial and non-profit enterprises in donor human milk banking, one of the most exciting developments in infant nutrition this past decade. In 2008 we started the SPIN (Supporting Premature Infant Nutrition) program (http://spinprogram.ucsd.edu) to develop a Center of Excellence in human milk nutrition for the vulnerable preterm infant. Now seven years running, I can look back and see some clear areas where we were able to be successful. Here are a few lessons learned…

I hope you enjoyed this post of “9 Human Milk Post Resources for NICU Professionals,” and it becomes a convenient information reserve as your NICU grows into ever more successful human milk collection, storage and delivery practices.

Do you have a suggestion for a future human milk focused post? Let us know in the comments below.