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Better Nutrition May Improve Premature Infants’ Lungs


Nutrition is a critical component of care for premature infants. A new study indicates that it not only helps with weight gain, but may also help improve lung function as well in infants with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD).

Adequate Weight Gain Also Results in Lung Development

BPD typically develops in premature infants with underdeveloped lungs who require prolonged ventilation or oxygen therapy after birth. The condition is characterized by inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue. Babies who are on ventilators require extra calories due to the effort of breathing and growth failure and malnutrition are a common complication.

While most infants will recover, some do go on to have long-term health problems such as asthma.

Read: March of Dimes Report Card for Premature Births

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At the University of Michigan, researchers studied 18 infants with a history of moderate to severe bronchopulmonary dysplasia and found that those with above-average weight gain showed significantly improved lung volumes.

“Consistent with animal studies that show the harmful effects of malnutrition on lung development, we showed improvements in lung function, such as forced vital capacity and total lung capacity, in infants with above-average body growth,” says study lead author Amy G. Filbrun MD MS, assistant professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases.

Read: Breastfeeding Important for Infants Born Premature

Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are considered preterm, or premature. Each year, 1 in 8 babies born in the United States are premature, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Feeding recommendations for these infants is based on many factors such as birth weight and developmental age. Many are fed via feeding tube until they develop an adequate suck reflex to begin breast or bottle feeding.

Pediatric Pulmonology; DOI: 10.1002/ppul.21378
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention