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How breastmilk benefits babies, especially those in NICU

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

Breast milk provides the optimal nutrients such as vitamins, proteins and fats as well as growth factors, hormones, protective antibodies and digestive enzymes to ensure that these NICU babies grow and develop well. It also reduces the risk of illnesses and promotes normal growth and better long term development.

Source: KK Women's and Children's Hospital Press Release, 8 Nov 2018

Premature or sick babies’ immature digestive system is prone to feeding intolerance and they are at risk of developing a life-threatening condition known as “necrotizing enterocolitis”, a serious intestinal disease among premature babies. In full-term infants with medical conditions such as heart disease and gastrointestinal malformations, the use of breast milk offers protection from infections and reduces feeding intolerance.

Premature babies who are fed breast milk tend to develop better eyesight and certain types of fats found in breastmilk ensure the growth and development of a high-risk baby's eyes, brain, and nervous system.

Source: Healthline, 17 Feb 2020

Breast milk alone contains disease-fighting factors such as antibodies that help prevent mild to severe infections in babies and help the baby develop a strong immune system. NICU babies run the risk of catching infections, hence, breast milk helps reduce the chances and the severity of many health issues. Babies who are fed breast milk also have fewer GI, respiratory, ear, and urinary infections after leaving the hospital.

Because nature made breastmilk for babies, breast milk is the most easily digested food a baby can get. A nutritious and easily digested first food is important for any baby. But it is particularly good for the immature digestive tract of a premature baby and the more sensitive systems of many other high-risk babies. The baby is able to break your milk down more fully into its basic parts. And it takes less energy than it would take to digest formula. So the nutrients, infection-fighting factors, and all of the other "ingredients" in the milk are more available to fuel the baby's body and to help growth and development.

Suitability is also thought to be a reason that babies getting breast milk are less likely to develop allergic-related skin problems. All of these benefits of breastmilk mean the baby's body can work less yet get more nourishment. This means less stress on the baby's heart, lungs, bowels, and kidneys. It also lets NICU babies use more energy to grow and get better. By giving these babies breastmilk, you are creating a medicine that no hospital can make. Babies who get this medicine are often ready for oral feedings earlier. They can also go home sooner than high-risk babies getting other types of feedings.

Source: The Atlantic, 1 Oct 2015 (Illustration: Laura Breiling / Mosaic)

Many mothers are unable to provide breastmilk for their babies due to health reasons. Some mothers struggle to produce enough milk immediately postpartum due to post-surgical recovery or an inability for mother and baby to have skin-to-skin interaction. In some cases, the mother might have a true low breast milk supply and may not be able to breastfeed exclusively. However, supplementing with infant donor milk is nothing to be ashamed of. Every mother and baby is unique and so is every breastfeeding situation. Being told that you cannot or should not breastfeed can be disheartening but it is ok to feel that and work through those emotions. Seeking professional help or relying on people you trust is necessary for all mothers at every stage of this journey.

As hard as it may be, breastfeeding is not the only way to obtain nutrition and form a close relationship with your child. Relying on donor breast milk does not make you a bad mother but rather a great one as you have taken the time to consider the best for your child. Helping these babies meet their nutrition needs is exactly what a good parent does. Hence, it is important to understand that not all mothers can breastfeed but if you can, you can play your part by donating your breastmilk to KK Human Milk Bank or other donor milk banks to help save these babies.

Source: The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2018 (Photo: Timothy David)

Temasek Foundation Community Milk Bank programme, run by KK Human Milk Bank is a non-profit initiative to provide pasteurised donor human milk to both hospitalised premature and sick infants and also non-hospitalised infants who meet the eligibility criteria.

If you are interested to be a donor and would like to find out more about the Temasek Foundation Community Milk Bank Programme, contact them at:

Tel: 6394 1986


We understand that breastfeeding is not an easy journey and we are here to support you. Clookies also offers breastfeeding counselling and lactation support. You can contact us at:

Via WhatsApp: +65 9109 9724

Via Email:

As a lactation bakes company, Clookies uses organic and quality ingredients to help mums improve their milk supply. Breastfeeding may not be easy but we are here to help make the journey easier!

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Underwood M. A. (2013). Human milk for the premature infant. Pediatric clinics of North America, 60(1), 189–207.

The Benefits of Mother's Own Milk. Stanford Children's Health - Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Temasek Foundation Community Milk Bank Programme. KK Human Milk Bank. (2021, February 1). Retrieved from

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