Working Toward a NEC-free NICU

Written by Sejal Fichadia, Leadership Committee member of the NEC Society

I became active in the NEC Society through my participation in Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon. I’m constantly looking for ways that I can help to improve breastfeeding rates here in the U.S. The NEC Society and Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon both demonstrate the critical need for increased support of human milk for all infants, especially critically ill and premature infants.

Sejal at Milk Stroll

Author Sejal Fichadia and friend at a Miracle Milk Stroll, celebrating the life-saving power of human milk!

It is widely accepted that premature babies need their mother’s milk, and that human donor milk is the next best option when the mother has a compromised milk supply. Recently, I came across an abstract in Pediatrics, “A NEC Free NICU Through Breastfeeding Quality Improvement Project (QIP)” coming out of Ireland, which like the U.S. has very low breastfeeding rates. After providing virtually universal access to human milk to all fragile and premature infants, they reported zero cases of necrotizing enterocolitis in their NICU in 2013, a first in the history of their unit.

“Human milk saves lives and reduces the risks of fragile infants developing necrotizing enterocolitis.”

I’d love to see every U.S. NICU prioritize human milk for all fragile infants, and ensure that pasteurized donor milk is the second best choice for infants without mother’s own milk. Human milk saves lives and reduces the risks of fragile infants developing necrotizing enterocolitis. When human milk is properly prioritized for fragile infants, clinicians, researchers and parents can attest to the countless improved outcomes and decreased rates of rehospitalizations.

Clinicians and hospitals must value and view human milk as the lifesaving intervention that it is for fragile infants. And perhaps most importantly, parents of fragile infants must be informed on the lifesaving power of an exclusive human milk diet for their baby. The parents must be informed.

Research has shown us that the protective properties of human milk for fragile infants is dose dependent – the more human milk the better! Exclusive human milk (meaning no bovine-based fortifiers) being the safest option.

Despite existing research about best practices around human milk for fragile infants, NICUs across the country continue to give artificial milk to babies whose systems are too immature to digest and tolerate it. The risks and potential negative impacts of artificial milk for premature infants are severe and costly.

I am part of the NEC Society and the Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon because I want to help make human milk the norm when it comes to feeding every baby. I want to help empower parents with information so they know the lifesaving power of donor milk for fragile infants. Necrotizing enterocolitis is one of the worst diseases that threaten our NICU babies, and human milk is one of our best defenses.

In closing, I would like to share the below quote by Vince Lombardi because while human milk cannot completely 100% prevent necrotizing enterocolitis, it absolutely offers the best protection.

“Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, then we can catch excellence.”


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