Study Targets Support for Premature Babies

Mother of triplets Janet Kashuba (left), holding daughters Frances and Jaclyn, was pleased to participate in Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Nancy Rodriguez’s research on the benefits of mother’s milk. Rodriguez, a PhD-level nurse, is holding Kashuba’s third daughter Felicia.

When extremely premature infants are born today, neonatal intensive care units help these smallest babies fight for their lives with an array of specialized machines and equipment. Researchers at NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) have added another life-saving intervention, one that is in simple contrast: milk drops from Mom.

With crucial seed funding from The Associate Board of NorthShore, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Nancy Rodriguez, PhD, APN, is pioneering research at five neonatal intensive care units across the country to study the safety and efficacy of drops of mother’s milk placed directly into a baby’s mouth. Along with co-investigator Michael Caplan, MD, The Auxiliary of NorthShore Chair of Pediatrics and Chief Scientific Officer, their results could impact standard clinical practice worldwide.

“Because the swallowing reflex is not well-developed until 32 weeks, extremely premature babies typically receive milk feedings directly into their stomach through a tube, bypassing their mouth,” explained Dr. Rodriguez, the principal investigator. By studying the immune response of orally administered mother’s milk, researchers will evaluate whether this intervention offers increased protection from infection, and potentially increases survival.

“The milk expressed by mothers of extremely premature infants is highly concentrated in protective biofactors, including antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agents, especially during the infant’s first days of life,” she added.

Janet Kashuba, a mother of triplet daughters born prematurely at 29 weeks, was pleased to be part of the study. “I’ve benefited from the involvement of others in research, and I received outstanding prenatal and postpartum care at NorthShore,” she said. “Now, my daughters are doing well, and I know my participation will help other families.”

“We are honored to support this groundbreaking research project and hope others will join us,” said Emily Laipple, Former President of The Associate Board, whose grant enabled Dr. Rodriguez to begin the multicenter study. “This study is especially intriguing because it has the potential to impact how doctors and nurses currently care for premature babies all over the world.”

“Initial seed funding is a crucial stepping stone because it gives researchers the opportunity to launch their work and to attract other funding,” added Dr. Rodriguez, who noted that in addition to The Associate Board’s support, the Mother’s Milk research project has received grants from several private foundations. “These funds enable us to purchase necessary supplies and to support on-site research coordinators. Without philanthropy, this study would never have happened.”

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