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Preterm babies want special protein care

 

Every mother knows that her womb is a safe place for her baby. There, her body naturally provides the unborn child with the nutrients it needs for development. But how do we provide this same optimal nutrition after our baby is born, especially for preterm babies?

Venerdì 9 Ottobre 2015

Every mother knows that her womb is a safe place for her baby. There, her body naturally provides the unborn child with the nutrients it needs for development. But how do we provide this same optimal nutrition after our baby is born, especially for preterm babies?

Preterm babies (infants born before the 37th week of pregnancy) require specific nutritional care. They are smaller and lighter than full term babies, and often their organs are not fully developed. So their bodies need a bit of extra help to catch up to the full development they would have had in the womb. It is tricky to know what food is best for your preterm baby during those first few critical weeks!

Most importantly, adequate protein and energy intakes will improve your preterm baby’s growth and development. This will result in increased brain volume as well as in improved cognitive functioning. On the downside, low protein and energy intakes during the first weeks are risky for the preterm infant, and can result in poorer neuro-cognitive development.

The first goal of preterm infant nutrition is to enhance growth and nutrient retention at rates similar to those occurring in the womb. During the last trimester of pregnancy, the contribution of protein gain to body weight increases to a maximum. That is why protein turnover (synthesis and breakdown) in preterm babies is high compared to term infants and older children. Adequate protein intake is therefore critical for the synthesis of lean body mass in preterm babies. However, because of the preterm infant’s immature metabolic and renal functions, there is a narrow margin between an adequate protein intake and the possible adverse effects of a deficient or an excessive intake.

Protein quality is just as important as quantity. Some amino acids, the building blocks of protein, which full-term infants are able to produce naturally, must be part of the dietary requirements for preterm infants. They don’t yet produce these amino acids because the activity of the enzymes in their bodies required to do so is still very low.

It is therefore important to give preterm babies sufficient and quality protein early in life. This gives babies with a low body weight a better chance of picking up weight. High protein intake also results in increased brain volume and improved cognitive abilities later in life. It will also compensate for any accumulated protein deficit the preterm baby might have. To add to this, a high protein intake (vs a high energy intake) is best for protein gain in the preterm infant’s body.

Human milk fortifiers that have whey protein are the best protein source for preterm infants. It produces growth in preterm babies that are similar to those found with infants only given human milk protein. It is also less likely to upset your baby’s stomach.

It’s comforting to know that mums can give their preterm babies adequate protein to make sure they achieve full physical and physiological development!

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