Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a devastating intestinal disease that primarily affects babies born prematurely or with a medical condition. NEC is likely caused by many factors, with the lack of blood flow to the intestine possibly playing a key role. Babies with certain medical conditions, such as complex congenital heart disease (CHD), are at a higher risk of developing NEC, even when they are born at term. Changes in blood flow from the heart disease may compromise blood flow to the intestine and potentially lead to necrotizing enterocolitis.
We know that feeding vulnerable infants mothers milk offers the best protection against NEC, but human milk does not eliminate the risks of NEC. We need to do more to better prevent NEC in our preemie and cardiac babies. We are committed to improving our understanding and helping to improve outcomes for infants at risks of this devastating disease.
Researchers at Texas Children’s Hospital retrospectively studied babies with CHD who needed heart surgery after birth and before discharge. The results of the study suggest that an exclusive unfortified human milk diet is associated with a significantly lower risk of NEC before heart surgery. While more research on CHD and NEC is critically needed, this work suggests that CHD babies benefit from human milk and that human milk protects these vulnerable infants from devastating outcomes like necrotizing enterocolitis.