If you have been following this blog for some time you would know that discussions about breastfeeding or breast milk are not an uncommon topic here. Literature exits already examining the impact of consumed breast milk on such outcomes as BPD and ROP. Much of our taste though is influenced by our sense of smell. Our olfactory sense therefore might be quite powerful in terms of having a calming effect on the neonate undergoing a painful procedure. This is the exact hypothesis of a recent study looking at the calming effect of the odor of breast milk during heel lance procedures.
This study out of Turkey by Tasci B is entitled The Calming Effect of Maternal Breast Milk Odor on Term Infant: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The authors performed a randomized trial of 84 infants (42 formula vs 42 mothers own milk) in which infants prior to a heel poke were exposed to the scent of either formula or human milk for a three minute duration. All infants were between 38-42 weeks gestation at birth and weighted between 2500 – 4000g. Two milliliters of either feed were soaked into filter paper and held under the nose for the study. Perhaps the only fault here was that the study could not be double blinded as the authors note that the intervention and assessment were done by the same researcher. The study though did use pain assessments using the NIPS scoring system and in addition to the researcher a nurse also did a simultaneous assessment. From a biological standpoint, as other authors have done before them, salivary cortisol was used to measure stress response of the infant before and after the noxious stimuli. Conditions under which sampling and scoring were done were standardized as much as possible by maintaining the temperature of the room at 23-26 degrees, and doing all heel pokes 1 hour after a feed.
The Results Please
Pain scoring, heart rate and oxygen saturation levels were all better under conditions of sniffing breast milk than formula as shown in Table 2. The oxygen saturation decline in those who sniffed formula was not clinically significant but did reach statistical significance.
Also perhaps not surprisingly the duration of infant crying was much shorter with exposure to the scent of breast milk vs formula.
Finally the stress response biologically appeared to be attenuated with exposure to breast milk.
The results of the study are quite interesting to me in that prior work has shown that drops of human milk on a pacifier or in the mouth can improve tolerance to pain. This study adds to the research out there by demonstrating just the scent of breast milk can have a positive effect on tolerance of pain. I suppose the next question is how this could be used. I think for most patients who can tolerate drops of milk in the mouth that would be the preferred method as one would get two senses involved in taste and smell. Having said that there are infants who may not be able to tolerate even a few drops of milk due to poor gag or handling of secretions. What this study adds I suppose is that even have a few drops of milk on filter paper can make a difference to tolerance of pain.
Might this be something that people would prefer to use for a baby who is ventilated or on CPAP? Maybe depending on local unit practices and risk tolerance. At the end of the day though what we have learned here is that our sense of smell is a powerful thing and can modulate how we perceive and react to painful stimuli. As I often say, breast milk is a powerful thing.
A recent post on the intranasal application of breast milk Can intranasal application of breastmilk cure severe IVH? garnered a lot of attention and importantly comments. Many of the comments were related to other uses for breast milk (almost all of which I had no idea about). A quick search by google uncovered MANY articles from the lay press on such uses from treating ear infections to diaper dermatitis. One such article 6 Surprising Natural Uses For Breast Milk certainly makes this liquid gold sound like just that! This got me thinking as I read through the claims as to how much of this is backed by science and how much is based on experience of mothers who have tried using breast milk for a variety of unconventional treatments. I was intrigued by the claim about acne as with several family members nearing that wonderful period of the teenage years I wondered might there have been a treatment right under my nose all this time? Before going on I will tell you what this post is not. This is not going to be about telling everyone that this is a terrible idea. What this is about is breaking down the science that is behind the articles that have surfaced on the internet about its use. I thought it was interesting and I hope you do too!
The Year Was 2009
The story begins here (or at least this is the point that I found some evidence). A group of nanoengineering researchers published a paper entitled The antimicrobial activity of liposomal lauric acids against Propionibacterium acnes. The authors examined the antibacterial effect of three fatty acids one of which was lauric acid (which is found in coconut oil but also in breast milk) against Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) the bacterium responsible for acne in those teen years. The results in terms of dose response to lauric acid was quite significant.
This is where the link in the story begins. Lauric acid kills P. Acne and it is found in high concentrations in breast milk so might topical application of breast milk treat acne? From what I can see this concept didn’t take off right away but a few years later it would.
Next we move on to 2013
This same group published In vivo treatment of Propionibacterium acnes infection with liposomal lauric acids. in 2013. This time around they used a mouse model and demonstrated activity against P. Acnes using a liposomal gel delivery system to get the Lauric acid onto the skin of the mouse. Interestingly, the gel did not cause any irritation of the mouse skin but using the traditional benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid caused severe irritation. From this it appears that the news story broke about using breast milk to treat acne as I note several lay press news stories about the same after 2013. Let’s be clear though about what the state of knowledge is at this point. Lauric acid kills P. Acne without irritating skin in a mouse model. As with many early discoveries people can get very excited and apply the same to humans after extrapolation.
What Happened Since Then?
Well, in late 2018 this study was released Design, preparation, and evaluation of liposomal gel formulations for treatment of acne: in vitro and in vivo studies. This is another animal study but this time in the rat which demonstrated application of the gel led to “∼2 fold reduction in comedones count and cytokines (TNF-α and IL-1β) on co-application with curcumin and lauric acid liposomal gel compared to placebo treated group.” Essentially, comedones were reduced and markers of inflammation. So not only do we see an antimicrobial effect, once the bacteria are erradicated, there is a clinical reduction in acne lesions!
Where do we go from here?
This story is still evolving. Based on the animal research thus far here is what I believe.
1. Lauric acid a fatty acid found in breast milk can kill P. Acne.
2. Lauric acid provided in a gel form and topically applied to rodents with acne can achieve clinical benefits.
3. Whereas current standard treatments of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid cause inflammation of the skin with a red complexion, lauric acid does not seem to have that effect.
These are pretty incredible findings and I have no doubt, pharmaceutical companies will be bringing forth treatments with lauric acid face creams (they already exist) with a target for acne soon enough. The question though is whether families should go the “natural route” and apply expressed breast milk to their teenagers face. Aside from the issue of whether or not your teenager would allow that if they knew what it was the other question is what might grow on the skin where breast milk is left. I am not aware of any further studies looking at other bacteria (since P. Acnes certainly isn’t welcome around breast milk) but that is one potential concern.
In the end though I think the research is still a little premature. We don’t have human trials at this point although I suspect they are coming. Can I say this is a terrible idea if you are currently using breast milk in such a fashion? I suppose I can’t as there is some data presented above that would give some credibility to the strategy. I am curious for those who read this post what your experience has been if you have used breast milk for acne or for other skin conditions.
Producing milk for your newborn and perhaps even more so when you have had a very preterm infant with all the added stress is not easy. The benefits of human milk have been documented many times over for preterm infants. In a cochrane review from 2014 use of donor human milk instead of formula was associated with a reduction in necrotizing enterocolitis. More recently similar reductions have been seen in retinopathy of prematurity. Interestingly with respect to the latter it would appear that any amount of breast milk leads to a reduction in ROP. Knowing this finding we should celebrate every millilitre of milk that a mother brings to the bedside and support them when it does not flow as easily as they wish. While it would be wonderful for all mothers to supply enough for their infant and even more so that excess could be donated for those who can’t themselves we know this not to be the case. What we can do is minimize stress around the issue by informing parents that every drop counts and to celebrate it as such!
Why Is Breast Milk So Protective
Whether the outcome is necrotizing enterocolitis or ROP the common pathway is one of inflammation. Mother’s own milk contains many anti-inflammatory properties and has been demonstrated to be superior to formula in that regard by Friel and no difference exists between preterm and term versions. Aside from the anti-inflammatory protection there may be other factors at work such as constituents of milk like lactoferrin that may have a protective effect as well although a recent trial would not be supportive of this claim.
Could Mother’s Own Milk Have a Dose Response Effect in Reducing The Risk of BPD?
This is what is being proposed by a study published in early November entitled Influence of own mother’s milk on bronchopulmonary dysplasia and costs. What is special about this study and is the reason I chose to write this post is that the study is unusual in that it didn’t look at the effect of an exclusive human milk diet but rather attempted to isolate the role of mother’s own milk as it pertains to BPD. Patients in this trial were enrolled prospectively in a non randomized fashion with the key difference being the quantity of mothers own milk consumed in terms of a percentage of oral intake. Although donor breast milk existed in this unit, the patients included in this particular cohort only received mother’s own milk versus formula. All told, 254 infants were enrolled in the study. As with many studies looking at risks for BPD the usual culprits were found with male sex being a risk along with smaller and less mature babies and receipt of more fluid in the first 7 days of age. What also came up and turned out after adjusting for other risk factors to be significant as well in terms of contribution was the percentage of mother’s own milk received in the diet.
Every ↑ of 10% = reduction in risk of BPD at 36 weeks PMA by 9.5%
That is a really big effect! Now what about a reduction in costs due to milk? That was difficult to show an independent difference but consider this. Each case of BPD had an additional cost in the US health care system of $41929!
What Lesson Can be Learned Here?
Donor breast milk programs are a very important addition to the toolkit in the NICU. Minimizing the reliance on formula for our infants particularly those below 1500g has reaped many benefits as mentioned above. The availability of such sources though should not deter us from supporting the mothers of these infants in the NICU from striving to produce as much as they can for their infants. Every drop counts! A mother for example who produces only 20% of the needed volume of milk from birth to 36 weeks corrected age may reduce the risk of her baby developing BPD by almost 20%. That number is astounding in terms of effect size. What it also means is that every drop should be celebrated and every mother congratulated for producing what they can. We should encourage more production but rejoice in every 10% milestone.
What it also means in terms of cost is that the provision of lactation consultants in the NICU may be worth their weight in gold. I don’t know what someone performing such services earns in different institutions but if you could avoid two cases of BPD a year in the US I would suspect that nearly $84000 in cost savings would go a long way towards paying for such extra support.
Lastly, it is worth noting that with the NICU environment being as busy as it is sometimes the question “are you planning on breastfeeding?” may be missed. As teams we should not assume that the question was discussed on admission. We need to ask with intention whether a mother is planning on breastfeeding and take the time if the answer is “no” to discuss why it may be worth reconsidering. Results like these are worth the extra effort!
I woke up this morning and as I do everyday, scanned the media outlets for news that would be of interest to you the reader. One such article today was about how breast milk may give babies a metabolic boost due to micro RNA present in the milk. This got me thinking about how natural a thing this breast milk is and how substances within interact with the baby receiving it. After that point I recalled writing about a challenge to the statement that breast milk is natural and thought you might like to see what I considered to be an outrageous piece of journalism from last year.
The premise of the article is that by reinforcing that breastfeeding is natural we may hamper initiatives to increase vaccination in many parts of the world and in particular North America I would think. The idea here is that if we firmly entrench in women’s heads that natural is better then this will strengthen the conviction that we should not vaccinate with these “man made” unnatural vaccines. I am sorry to be dramatic about this but I think the argument is ridiculous and in fact dangerous.
The Definition of Natural
“existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature”
From the Mirriam Webster dictionary
Breastfeeding satisfies this definition pure and simple and there is nothing that anyone should say to suggest otherwise no matter what the motive is. The shift from formula to breastfeeding has been predicated on this notion and a plethora of literature on the subject demonstrating reductions in such things as infections of many kinds, diarrhoea, atopic disease in the first year of life as examples. In my world of premature infants additional reductions in NEC, bloody stools, have been seen and more recently in some cases improved neurodevelopmental outcomes.
In this case of irresponsible journalism a better approach if you were wanting to use the natural argument with respect to vaccines is to promote just that.
Vaccines are Natural
Someone will no doubt challenge me on this point as it would be a fair comment to say that there are artificial substances added to vaccines but there is no question the organisms that we vaccinate against are natural.
Think about this for a moment. All of the vaccines out there are meant to protect us against organisms that exists in NATURE. These are all bacteria or viruses that have likely existed on this planet of ours for millions of years. They are found everywhere and in many cases what we are doing when we give such vaccines are providing parts of or weakened versions of these natural organisms in order for us the human to mount a protective response.
This protective response is NATURAL. If we didn’t vaccinate and came across the fully virulent pathogen in NATURE our bodies would do exactly what they do when a vaccine is given to us. Our immune system would mount a response to the organism and start producing protective antibodies. Unfortunately in many cases this will be too little too late as the bacteria or virus will cause it’s damage before we have a chance to rid ourselves of this natural organism.
This is the basis of vaccination. Allow our bodies a chance to have protection against an organism that we haven’t been exposed to yet so that when it comes we have a legion of antibodies just waiting to attach this natural organism.
CNN Didn’t Get It Right
In the article which is based on a paper entitled the Unintended Consequences of Invoking the “Natural” in Breastfeeding Promotion by Jessica Martucci & Anne Barnhill the authors admit that the number of families that this actually would impact is small. the question then is why publish this at all. Steering families away from thinking that breastfeeding is natural is wrong. Plain and simple.
If the goal is to improve vaccination rates, focus on informing the public about how NATURAL vaccinations actually are and don’t drag breastfeeding down in order to achieve such goals. As a someone who writes themselves I am well aware of how personal biases creep into everything we write. I am aware of the irony of that statement since it is clear what side of the argument I sit on. While I peruse CNN myself almost daily I think the editors either missed the larger message in this piece or perhaps felt the same way. A disclosure that “the opinions of the author do not necessarily represent those of the network” does not cut it for what I would consider responsible journalism in this case.
It is hard to believe but All Things Neonatal is a year old. When I started this little concept I had no idea what was to come but am delighted with where it has gone. While the Blog site itself has about 200 followers, the Facebook page is home to nearly 4200 followers with twitter accounting for over 500 more. What began as a forum for me to get some thoughts off my chest about neonatal topics or articles of interest has morphed into a place to create change. As I look back over the last year I thought I would update the readers of this page and other social media platforms what the outcome has been for some of the ideas that I have brought forward. We have implemented some of these suggestions into our own unit practices, so without further ado here are the updates for some (but not all!) of the changes we have introduced.
Articles pertaining to use of Telehealth in all aspects of medicine are becoming commonplace. Locally we have seen expansion of rural sites that can connect with us and a strong desire by existing sites to connect via telehealth for a variety of reasons. While the thrust of the program was to deliver advice to rural practitioners and support our level I and II units we have found such support leading to possibilities we had not dreamed of. Initial discussions via telehealth and in person have occurred examining whether such treatments as CPAP stabilization and NG feedings could be done in these sites. Being able to provide such care will no doubt lead to more stable infants being transported to our site and moreover the possibility of moving the care for infants needing only gavage feeding back to their home communities. Who knows what the future will hold for us as we also look forward to the hiring of a telehealth coordinator for NICU!
This has been one of my favourite topics to write about. The ability to sample CO2 from an area near the carina has been demonstrated to be accurate and to save pokes in the long run. Since writing this piece we have tried it on several babies by using a double lumen tube and found the results to be as accurate as described in the Israeli papers. In practice though, secretions have proved difficult to handle for longer periods of use as they can travel up the sampling lines and damage the filters in the analyzers. A costly issue to deal with that we are currently trying to solve. Being able to continuously sample CO2 and adjust ventilation without drawing frequent blood gases is somewhat of a dream for me and we will continue to see how we can go about making this an established practice but there is work to be done!
I think most people in Winnipeg would say the answer is yes. On this front two major positive changes have occurred in the last year in this regard. The first is that through a generous donation and the blessing of our health region we have been able to expand the use of donor breast milk from < 1250g for a two week period to < 1500g for a one month period. This wonderful change came about after much effort and was celebrated in December as we not only expanded the eligibility criteria but partnered with the NorthernStar Mother’s Milk Bank to provide donor milk to Manitobans (Manitobans Now Able To Support Premature Infants Through Donor Milk Program!). The other change which the above post also spoke of was the potential to eliminate bovine milk altogether with the use of Prolacta (Human based human milk fortifier). While we don’t have the approval to use the product as traditionally indicated, we have used it as a “rescue” for those patients who demonstrate a clear intolerance of bovine fortifier. Such patients would traditionally receive inadequate nutrition with no other option available but now several have received such rescue and we look forward to analyzing the results of such a strategy shortly!
Without question the most talked about change was the change in threshold for recommending resuscitation from 24 to 23 weeks. The change took almost a year to roll out and could not have been done without a massive educational rollout that so many people (a special thank you to our nurse educators!) took part in. Looking back on the year we have now seen several infants at 23 weeks who survived with a small minority dying in the newborn period. It is too early to look at long term outcomes but I think many of us have been surprised with just how well many of these children have done. Moreover I believe we may be seeing a “creep effect” at work as the outcomes of infants under 29 weeks have also improved as we developed new guidelines to provide the best care possible to these vulnerable infants. Antenatal steroid use is up, IVH down and at least from January to September of last year no infants died at HSC under 29 weeks! I look forward to seeing our results in the future and cannot tell you how impressed I am with how our entire team came together to make this all happen!
I wanted to share some of the initiatives that came forward or were chronicled on these pages over the last year to show you that this forum is not just a place for my mind to aimlessly wander. It is a place that can create change; some good, some great and no doubt some that won’t take. It has also been a place where ideas are laid out that have come from afar. From readers anywhere in the world who ask a question on one of the social media sites that get me thinking! I have enjoyed the past year and expect I will continue to enjoy what may spring forth from these pages for some time to come. Thank you for your contributions and I hope you get a little something out of this as well!