Retinopathy of Prematurity

An article published in the journal of Paediatrics in November 2015 has found that breastfeeding may play a strong role in protecting premature newborn babies from developing Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP).

The large scale retrospective Meta-analysis study showed that breastfeeding can significantly lower the incidence of Retinopathy of Prematurity in preterm infants. The data from 5 studies was pooled to include a total of 2208 preterm infants born between 26-30.2 weeks gestation.

The authors of the study hypothesise that the protective effects of human breastmilk are due to the antioxidants, immune-protective elements and other immunomodulatory properties in breastmilk.

This finding is very important because Retinopathy of Prematurity has become the leading cause of childhood blindness, and results in blindness for about 50,000 children around the world. Approximately 400-600 children become legally blind from ROP each year in the USA alone.

ROP is caused by the abnormal growth of tiny blood vessels on the retina of the eye of premature babies. Most instances of mild ROP recover without the need for any intervention. In severe cases of ROP, the retina can pull away from the globe and cause potentially blinding retinal detachments. Babies with a birth weight of less than 1250 grams, and those born prior to 31 weeks of gestation are at most risk of developing ROP.

Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists neonatal and paediatric ophthalmologist Dr Caroline Catt sees many premature babies and has extensive experience treating babies with Retinopathy of Prematurity.

Here is what Dr Caroline Catt had to say on this exciting research:

“A lot of premature babies are too small and too unwell to suck directly from mum in the early weeks. Many new mothers will therefore spend hours expressing milk into bottles which is then fed to their baby via a small tube which delivers the breastmilk straight to their stomach. It’s a tough job for these mothers but it’s great to have the evidence to prove their hard work is paying off. It’s reducing the chance of their baby developing retinopathy of prematurity.”

For further information on this research, please follow this link for the full-text article: