A controlled trial conducted in the national capital over two years involving 120 premature infants, has shown that higher protein intake through fortified human milk results in better head growth. The trial, conducted at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital’s Institute of Child Health, is significant as India sees 3 million premature births each year. This is approximately 20 per cent of the around 15 million global pre-term births, making India one of the largest contributors to premature births across the world.
According to doctors, premature infants often do not get enough nutrition as they do not get as much protein as a full-term baby would have received inside the uterus — which could result in extra-uterine growth restriction and lead to serious consequences.
Hence, doctors fortified human milk — a process in which which manufacturers add micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals to food. The purpose is to reduce the rate of common deficiencies and diseases that would otherwise occur in the absence of these nutrients.
The commonly available multi-component fortifier available in India has a protein content of 0.4 g per 100 ml of expressed breast milk (EBM), which is lower than most of the internationally available fortifiers — that have a protein content ranging from 0.7 to 1g/100 ml EBM.
“Our study showed some amazing results on short-term growth of infants receiving higher protein intake. These infants had better weight gain and head growth compared to
those receiving lower protein. However, the short-term gain in growth did not translate into long-term gains of improved growth or development at 12-18 months corrected age. There are probably other factors that can affect growth and development in infants after their discharge from the hospital that we could not control,” Dr Pankaj Garg, author and senior consultant, Department of Neonatology at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, said.