Producing milk for your newborn and perhaps even more so when you have had a very preterm infant with all the added stress is not easy. The benefits of human milk have been documented many times over for preterm infants. In a cochrane review from 2014 use of donor human milk instead of formula was associated with a reduction in necrotizing enterocolitis. More recently similar reductions have been seen in retinopathy of prematurity. Interestingly with respect to the latter it would appear that any amount of breast milk leads to a reduction in ROP. Knowing this finding we should celebrate every millilitre of milk that a mother brings to the bedside and support them when it does not flow as easily as they wish. While it would be wonderful for all mothers to supply enough for their infant and even more so that excess could be donated for those who can’t themselves we know this not to be the case. What we can do is minimize stress around the issue by informing parents that every drop counts and to celebrate it as such!
Why Is Breast Milk So Protective
Whether the outcome is necrotizing enterocolitis or ROP the common pathway is one of inflammation. Mother’s own milk contains many anti-inflammatory properties and has been demonstrated to be superior to formula in that regard by Friel and no difference exists between preterm and term versions. Aside from the anti-inflammatory protection there may be other factors at work such as constituents of milk like lactoferrin that may have a protective effect as well although a recent trial would not be supportive of this claim.
Could Mother’s Own Milk Have a Dose Response Effect in Reducing The Risk of BPD?
This is what is being proposed by a study published in early November entitled Influence of own mother’s milk on bronchopulmonary dysplasia and costs. What is special about this study and is the reason I chose to write this post is that the study is unusual in that it didn’t look at the effect of an exclusive human milk diet but rather attempted to isolate the role of mother’s own milk as it pertains to BPD. Patients in this trial were enrolled prospectively in a non randomized fashion with the key difference being the quantity of mothers own milk consumed in terms of a percentage of oral intake. Although donor breast milk existed in this unit, the patients included in this particular cohort only received mother’s own milk versus formula. All told, 254 infants were enrolled in the study. As with many studies looking at risks for BPD the usual culprits were found with male sex being a risk along with smaller and less mature babies and receipt of more fluid in the first 7 days of age. What also came up and turned out after adjusting for other risk factors to be significant as well in terms of contribution was the percentage of mother’s own milk received in the diet.
Every ↑ of 10% = reduction in risk of BPD at 36 weeks PMA by 9.5%
That is a really big effect! Now what about a reduction in costs due to milk? That was difficult to show an independent difference but consider this. Each case of BPD had an additional cost in the US health care system of $41929!
What Lesson Can be Learned Here?
Donor breast milk programs are a very important addition to the toolkit in the NICU. Minimizing the reliance on formula for our infants particularly those below 1500g has reaped many benefits as mentioned above. The availability of such sources though should not deter us from supporting the mothers of these infants in the NICU from striving to produce as much as they can for their infants. Every drop counts! A mother for example who produces only 20% of the needed volume of milk from birth to 36 weeks corrected age may reduce the risk of her baby developing BPD by almost 20%. That number is astounding in terms of effect size. What it also means is that every drop should be celebrated and every mother congratulated for producing what they can. We should encourage more production but rejoice in every 10% milestone.
What it also means in terms of cost is that the provision of lactation consultants in the NICU may be worth their weight in gold. I don’t know what someone performing such services earns in different institutions but if you could avoid two cases of BPD a year in the US I would suspect that nearly $84000 in cost savings would go a long way towards paying for such extra support.
Lastly, it is worth noting that with the NICU environment being as busy as it is sometimes the question “are you planning on breastfeeding?” may be missed. As teams we should not assume that the question was discussed on admission. We need to ask with intention whether a mother is planning on breastfeeding and take the time if the answer is “no” to discuss why it may be worth reconsidering. Results like these are worth the extra effort!
I woke up this morning and as I do everyday, scanned the media outlets for news that would be of interest to you the reader. One such article today was about how breast milk may give babies a metabolic boost due to micro RNA present in the milk. This got me thinking about how natural a thing this breast milk is and how substances within interact with the baby receiving it. After that point I recalled writing about a challenge to the statement that breast milk is natural and thought you might like to see what I considered to be an outrageous piece of journalism from last year.
The premise of the article is that by reinforcing that breastfeeding is natural we may hamper initiatives to increase vaccination in many parts of the world and in particular North America I would think. The idea here is that if we firmly entrench in women’s heads that natural is better then this will strengthen the conviction that we should not vaccinate with these “man made” unnatural vaccines. I am sorry to be dramatic about this but I think the argument is ridiculous and in fact dangerous.
The Definition of Natural
“existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature”
From the Mirriam Webster dictionary
Breastfeeding satisfies this definition pure and simple and there is nothing that anyone should say to suggest otherwise no matter what the motive is. The shift from formula to breastfeeding has been predicated on this notion and a plethora of literature on the subject demonstrating reductions in such things as infections of many kinds, diarrhoea, atopic disease in the first year of life as examples. In my world of premature infants additional reductions in NEC, bloody stools, have been seen and more recently in some cases improved neurodevelopmental outcomes.
In this case of irresponsible journalism a better approach if you were wanting to use the natural argument with respect to vaccines is to promote just that.
Vaccines are Natural
Someone will no doubt challenge me on this point as it would be a fair comment to say that there are artificial substances added to vaccines but there is no question the organisms that we vaccinate against are natural.
Think about this for a moment. All of the vaccines out there are meant to protect us against organisms that exists in NATURE. These are all bacteria or viruses that have likely existed on this planet of ours for millions of years. They are found everywhere and in many cases what we are doing when we give such vaccines are providing parts of or weakened versions of these natural organisms in order for us the human to mount a protective response.
This protective response is NATURAL. If we didn’t vaccinate and came across the fully virulent pathogen in NATURE our bodies would do exactly what they do when a vaccine is given to us. Our immune system would mount a response to the organism and start producing protective antibodies. Unfortunately in many cases this will be too little too late as the bacteria or virus will cause it’s damage before we have a chance to rid ourselves of this natural organism.
This is the basis of vaccination. Allow our bodies a chance to have protection against an organism that we haven’t been exposed to yet so that when it comes we have a legion of antibodies just waiting to attach this natural organism.
CNN Didn’t Get It Right
In the article which is based on a paper entitled the Unintended Consequences of Invoking the “Natural” in Breastfeeding Promotion by Jessica Martucci & Anne Barnhill the authors admit that the number of families that this actually would impact is small. the question then is why publish this at all. Steering families away from thinking that breastfeeding is natural is wrong. Plain and simple.
If the goal is to improve vaccination rates, focus on informing the public about how NATURAL vaccinations actually are and don’t drag breastfeeding down in order to achieve such goals. As a someone who writes themselves I am well aware of how personal biases creep into everything we write. I am aware of the irony of that statement since it is clear what side of the argument I sit on. While I peruse CNN myself almost daily I think the editors either missed the larger message in this piece or perhaps felt the same way. A disclosure that “the opinions of the author do not necessarily represent those of the network” does not cut it for what I would consider responsible journalism in this case.
It is hard to believe but All Things Neonatal is a year old. When I started this little concept I had no idea what was to come but am delighted with where it has gone. While the Blog site itself has about 200 followers, the Facebook page is home to nearly 4200 followers with twitter accounting for over 500 more. What began as a forum for me to get some thoughts off my chest about neonatal topics or articles of interest has morphed into a place to create change. As I look back over the last year I thought I would update the readers of this page and other social media platforms what the outcome has been for some of the ideas that I have brought forward. We have implemented some of these suggestions into our own unit practices, so without further ado here are the updates for some (but not all!) of the changes we have introduced.
Articles pertaining to use of Telehealth in all aspects of medicine are becoming commonplace. Locally we have seen expansion of rural sites that can connect with us and a strong desire by existing sites to connect via telehealth for a variety of reasons. While the thrust of the program was to deliver advice to rural practitioners and support our level I and II units we have found such support leading to possibilities we had not dreamed of. Initial discussions via telehealth and in person have occurred examining whether such treatments as CPAP stabilization and NG feedings could be done in these sites. Being able to provide such care will no doubt lead to more stable infants being transported to our site and moreover the possibility of moving the care for infants needing only gavage feeding back to their home communities. Who knows what the future will hold for us as we also look forward to the hiring of a telehealth coordinator for NICU!
This has been one of my favourite topics to write about. The ability to sample CO2 from an area near the carina has been demonstrated to be accurate and to save pokes in the long run. Since writing this piece we have tried it on several babies by using a double lumen tube and found the results to be as accurate as described in the Israeli papers. In practice though, secretions have proved difficult to handle for longer periods of use as they can travel up the sampling lines and damage the filters in the analyzers. A costly issue to deal with that we are currently trying to solve. Being able to continuously sample CO2 and adjust ventilation without drawing frequent blood gases is somewhat of a dream for me and we will continue to see how we can go about making this an established practice but there is work to be done!
I think most people in Winnipeg would say the answer is yes. On this front two major positive changes have occurred in the last year in this regard. The first is that through a generous donation and the blessing of our health region we have been able to expand the use of donor breast milk from < 1250g for a two week period to < 1500g for a one month period. This wonderful change came about after much effort and was celebrated in December as we not only expanded the eligibility criteria but partnered with the NorthernStar Mother’s Milk Bank to provide donor milk to Manitobans (Manitobans Now Able To Support Premature Infants Through Donor Milk Program!). The other change which the above post also spoke of was the potential to eliminate bovine milk altogether with the use of Prolacta (Human based human milk fortifier). While we don’t have the approval to use the product as traditionally indicated, we have used it as a “rescue” for those patients who demonstrate a clear intolerance of bovine fortifier. Such patients would traditionally receive inadequate nutrition with no other option available but now several have received such rescue and we look forward to analyzing the results of such a strategy shortly!
Without question the most talked about change was the change in threshold for recommending resuscitation from 24 to 23 weeks. The change took almost a year to roll out and could not have been done without a massive educational rollout that so many people (a special thank you to our nurse educators!) took part in. Looking back on the year we have now seen several infants at 23 weeks who survived with a small minority dying in the newborn period. It is too early to look at long term outcomes but I think many of us have been surprised with just how well many of these children have done. Moreover I believe we may be seeing a “creep effect” at work as the outcomes of infants under 29 weeks have also improved as we developed new guidelines to provide the best care possible to these vulnerable infants. Antenatal steroid use is up, IVH down and at least from January to September of last year no infants died at HSC under 29 weeks! I look forward to seeing our results in the future and cannot tell you how impressed I am with how our entire team came together to make this all happen!
I wanted to share some of the initiatives that came forward or were chronicled on these pages over the last year to show you that this forum is not just a place for my mind to aimlessly wander. It is a place that can create change; some good, some great and no doubt some that won’t take. It has also been a place where ideas are laid out that have come from afar. From readers anywhere in the world who ask a question on one of the social media sites that get me thinking! I have enjoyed the past year and expect I will continue to enjoy what may spring forth from these pages for some time to come. Thank you for your contributions and I hope you get a little something out of this as well!
What follows is a news release from today that begins a new chapter in supporting preemies here in Manitoba. There are far too many people to thank who made this possible but to all I say THANK YOU!
New Breast Milk Drop Site at the Birth Centre Benefits Premature and Sick Infants
DECEMBER 2, 2015 (WINNIPEG, MB) – The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) announced today a milk drop site is being established at the Birth Centre (603 St. Mary’s Road) in Winnipeg. Minister Blady announced the collaboration between Women’s Health Clinic and the NorthernStar Mother’s Milk Bank.
Registered donations of breast milk will be accepted by the Birth Centre in Winnipeg and transported for pasteurization at NorthernStar’s lab in Calgary. The pasteurized human milk from donors will be used to help premature and sick babies in neonatal intensive care units in hospitals, and in the community, across Canada.
“There can be a number of reasons why a mother may not be able to provide breast milk for her baby,” said Health Minister Sharon Blady. “This new Milk Drop site will help families ensure premature and sick babies get the best possible start in life by providing pasteurized donor human milk an infant needs to not only survive, but thrive.”
The minister noted that establishing a human milk drop supports recommendations made in the Manitoba Breastfeeding Strategy, released in 2013.
The WRHA purchased a freezer for the milk drop with funds provided by the Winnipeg-based Siobhan Richardson Foundation. The Birth Centre will house the freezer and ensure the safe handling and storage of donated human milk before it is shipped to Calgary for processing.
“My thanks and appreciation goes out to the Siobhan Richardson Foundation for supporting new moms as well as our tiniest patients,” said Dana Erickson, Chief Operating Officer, Health Sciences Centre and WRHA executive responsible for child health and women’s health. “This milk drop initiative in Manitoba is a reality because of their vision and generosity along with the commitment and hard work of our excellent health care team.”
Studies have shown premature infants who receive the nutrients of pasteurized human milk from donors, when their mother’s own milk is not available, have fewer long-term health needs. The use of pasteurized donor human milk instead of formula can reduce the risk of serious health complications in pre-term infants. Having a dedicated milk supply for these babies can save lives.
“Several health outcomes for preterm infants are improved when pasteurized donor human milk, rather than formula, is used in these high risk infants,” said Dr. Michael Narvey, section head of neonatology for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. “Pasteurized donor human milk has been proven to reduce the chances of an infant developing a serious condition of the bowel which can lead to lifelong and serious health consequences. Babies weighing less than 1500 grams are significantly less likely to develop this serious condition when they are given pasteurized human milk from donors as opposed to formula.”
Starting January 4, 2016, the Birth Centre will accept breast milk from donors approved by NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank (formerly the Calgary Mothers Milk Bank). Women must first contact the NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank to be screened prior to dropping off their donation at the Birth Centre. Women will then need to have further screening including blood tests by their primary care provider to confirm if they qualify as a donor. These donations will be sent to the milk bank’s lab in Calgary where the donor milk is tested, pasteurized, and then prioritized for premature and sick infants.
“We are excited to see Manitoba’s first Milk Drop opening in Winnipeg,” said Janette Festival, Executive Director, NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank. “This Milk Drop is a testament to cooperation of multiple groups who believe in the medical power of donor human milk for babies in need. We hope this new ‘drop’ will encourage women in the Winnipeg area to consider becoming a milk donor.”
Women’s Health Clinic operates the Birth Centre facility and community programming, and will be collecting the donations and shipping them to the milk bank for testing and pasteurizing.
“Women and families come to the Birth Centre every day for a range of maternal health and wellness services, making it an ideal location for the new Milk Drop site,” said Joan Dawkins, Executive Director of Women’s Health Clinic. “Women who are interested in donating can get the process underway now by contacting NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank.”
To donate, mothers can contact the milk bank at 1-403-475-6455 or visit NorthernStarmilkbank.ca.
The 10th Annual Bowman Symposium did not disappoint! World class presenters gathered to provide a top to bottom update on a variety of topics spanning from the nervous system to Genetics. After a day and a half of presentations though I was left with some concerning (scary) thoughts and it seemed Halloween was the perfect time to share them with you!
How Much Oxygen is Just Right?
Dr. Ola Saugstad provided a wonderful history of the use of oxygen in Neonatology. After his talk it was clear that oxygen is most definitely a drug with its most concerning side effect being the production of oxygen free radicals in the body. If we are too restrictive aiming for saturations of 85 – 89% we spare our infants ROP but put them at greater risk of death. Too high at 91 – 95% and they may survive but with more ROP (BOOST and SUPPORT). If we resuscitate with 100% oxygen that is associated with worse outcomes but so too is 21% in our newborns < 28 weeks. The NRP would advise us to use 21 – 30% to start in this group for resuscitating but he recommends 30%. Certainly the recent publication by Jack Rabi out of Calgary suggests room air may in fact be harmful in this group as a starting point! After 50 years of research we still don’t know what to give newborns to help them start their life outside the womb. Scary.
It’s All In The Name
Next up is Dr. Aviva Goldberg who raised a very important point that I had not considered before. In every researchers quest to come up with a catchy name for their study that people will remember, the connotation is equally important. The SUPPORT study came under heavy fire (commentary here) after a surprising increase in mortality was found in the arm randomized to 85 – 89% saturations. Families sued the investigators and in their complaints they were angry about being misled. How could a study that was named the SUPPORT study do anything other than help their children? The title in and of itself they argued misled them as they never would have thought increased mortality could be a risk. Researchers make sure you test out your clever names with parents before finalizing your studies. The decision otherwise could come back to haunt you…
Jury Still Out on Bevicizumab (Avastin) for ROP
Dr. Ian Clark provided an overvue of the current state of thinking on treating ROP. For central disease in Zone 1 Avastin is preferred but for more peripheral disease laser seems to still be recommended due to its decisiveness in eliminating the disease without affecting future vision. Concerns continue though with respect to potential systemic effects of putting an anti-VEGF medication in the eye. Can it leak out and cause disruption to angiogenesis in other organs and in particular the brain? A recent poster at the CPS meeting in Toronto entitled Neurodevelopmental outcomes of extremely preterm infants treated with bevacizumab for severe retinopathy of prematurity indicates that there may be greater impairment in those receiving injections. There are several flaws in this paper though including greater numbers of males (we always do worse), more sepsis and worse SNAP-II scores in the injection group but the results have been making it into discussions leaving Ophthalmologists wondering if they are doing the right thing…very scary.
Cow’s Milk Human Milk Fortifier Is Safe For Premature Infants… Or is it?
Next up was Dr. Bill Diehl Jones who presented in vitro data on the effect of these supplements with respect to their contribution to oxidative stress. Such stress has been associated with BPD, NEC and ROP to name a few disorders in preemies. A paper published this week in which intestinal cells were exposed to human milk with HMF experienced significantly increased intracellular oxidation, cell damage, and cell death compared to those exposed to just breast milk. A paper from 2013 indicates that premature infants fed HMF experience increasing levels of urinary isoprostanes (a measure of oxidative stress). We know that infants receiving these products experience better growth and bone density than those without exposure but is there a cost? Will further research in this area drive us towards exclusive human milk based diets? The seed that has been planted in my head now questioning the safety of this product I use every day…a little frightening.
Curtailing Antibiotic Use And The Coming Black Swan
John Baier spoke about practice variation between Neonatologists in terms of the decision to prolong antibiotics or not in the face of negative cultures. While we do have variation, the good news is that we overall have cut down our tendency to prolong past 48 hours in the face of negative cultures. If we practice long enough though, the Black Swan will eventually rear its ugly head. The Black Swan is an exceptionally unusual event but one that has dramatic impact. How will we respond when a patient becomes septic after 48 hours and the antibiotics were stopped? Will we panic and change our practice entirely to avoid the internal pain again of feeling like we made a mistake or remember that we have saved countless infants from the long-term effects of indiscriminate use such as NEC, atopic disease and obesity in childhood just to name a few. It is this nagging doubt I have about how we will react that gives me cause to worry!
Finishing With a Miracle
It doesn’t seem right to end on a down note so I thought it would be worth celebrating that a cure has been found for something very scary. Hypophosphatasia is a rare disorder of the bone which was previously lethal in many cases. Thanks to research that our own Dr. Cheryl Greenberg led here in Canada we are able to successfully treat these children now. The Bowman symposium showed us incredible videos of such treated children and to end this post I found this video from Youtube of Gideon who was one of these patients treated with FDA Okays Asfotase Alfa (Strensiq). If you would like to leave this post with a smile on your face until next Halloween have a look at the video!