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Breast milk lowers sepsis risk in NICU infants


Feeding human breast milk to infants with very low birth weights greatly reduces risk for sepsis and significantly lowers associated NICU costs, according to a study.

Researchers with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that every 10 milliliters of human milk per kilogram that a very-low-birth-weight infant received during the first 28 days of life decreased the odds of sepsis by almost 20%.

A daily dose of 25 to 49.99 milliliters of human milk per kilogram reduced NICU costs by more than $20,000, while 50 milliliters per kilogram per day lowered costs by nearly $32,000.

The study, which was led by Aloka L. Patel, MD, was described as the first to examine the economic impact of an average daily dose of human milk for days one to 28 of life on risk of infection and related hospital care costs.

Of 175 VLBW infants, 23 (13%) developed sepsis from gram-positive bacteria such as staphylococci, Streptococcus and Enterococcus species; and gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli and species of Klebsiella, Enterobacter, Pseudomonas and Serratia.

Late-onset sepsis occurs in about 22% of VLBW babies the United States. In addition to predisposing these infants to other diseases and later neurodevelopmental disabilities, sepsis significantly raises NICU costs due to increased use of ventilation and longer lengths of stay, the researchers said. It also translates into higher societal and educational costs for neurologically affected survivors.

“The substantial NICU hospital cost savings associated with increased dosages of human milk are likely to offset the maternal and institutional costs of providing and feeding human milk, such as breast pump rental, lactation care providers and milk storage,” Patel, an associate professor in pediatrics who specializes in neonatal and perinatal medicine, said in a news release.

Patel and her co-researchers are further investigating this premise.

The study is scheduled for publication in The Journal of Perinatology. The study abstract is available at


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