Breastfeeding Community

Breastfeeding Preemies May Reduce Risk of a Serious Eye Problem

Aimee Sharp
Author | Shield HealthCare
11/18/15  1:53 PM PST
Breastfeeding Preemies

By Kathleen Doheny, HealthDay Reporter for Health.com

MONDAY, Nov. 16, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Breastfeeding a premature infant may help reduce the risk of a serious eye problem known as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), new research suggests.

The researchers said that when babies were exclusively fed breast milk, the risk of any-stage ROP appeared to drop by about 75 percent. And the risk of severe ROP seemed to be reduced by 90 percent, the researchers added.

“Human milk feeding potentially plays a strong role in protecting very preterm newborns from any-stage ROP and severe ROP,” the international team of study authors wrote.

Retinopathy of prematurity causes blood vessels to grow in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. When the vessels grow, they can cause the retina to detach, destroying vision, according to the U.S. National Eye Institute.

For the study, researchers from China, Canada and the United Kingdom reanalyzed the results of five published studies on ROP. The studies included more than 2,200 preterm infants, comparing how often babies had been fed human milk or formula, and whether or not they developed ROP.

However, the new analysis only showed an association between breast milk and a reduced risk of ROP. It did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship due to the study’s design.

Results of the study were published online Nov. 16 in Pediatrics.

Extremely preterm babies are most at risk of ROP. In the United States, 59 percent of babies born at 22 to 28 weeks have the disorder, said study researcher Dr. Chao Chen, a neonatologist at Children’s Hospital of Fudan University, in Shanghai. He added that in China, a previous study showed the incidence of ROP was 50 percent in infants with a birth weight under 1,000 grams (2.2 pounds).

ROP “has become a leading cause of childhood blindness in recent time,” Chen said. “In general, there are more ROP cases in developed countries, but more severe cases and higher rates of blindness in developing countries.”

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