UF researcher receives NIH grant to study milk expression in mothers of premature infants

Leslie Parker, Ph.D., A.R.N.P., an assistant professor of nursingA University of Florida researcher has received a $400,000 National Institutes of Health grant to evaluate the best time to initiate breast milk expression in mothers of very low birth weight infants in an effort to improve health outcomes for this vulnerable population.

College of Nursing clinical assistant professor Leslie Parker and her team, which includes associate professor Charlene Krueger and College of Medicine clinical assistant professor Sandra Sullivan, will compare different times post-birth for expressing milk in the mothers and evaluate which time frame is optimal for ensuring adequate breast milk production.

“I hope that my program of research can improve short- and long-term health outcomes for very low birth weight infants by improving their nutritional status and decreasing complications due to prematurity,” Parker said.

Mothers of very low birth weight infants often delay the initial milk expression session following delivery. Earlier initiation of milk expression has been associated with increased milk volume and an earlier onset of abundant milk production in mothers.

“The literature has shown that most mothers of very low birth weight infants typically don’t initiate milk expression until 12 to 18 hours after birth,” Parker said. “With the results of our pilot study, we would like to see if an earlier milk expression can yield positive results with a larger sample size.”

It has been well-documented that breast milk is optimal for infants of all ages, and that is especially true for very low birth weight infants. Breast milk provides vast protection to immature infants, including improved digestion, decreased length of stay, and reduced  risk of infection and necrotizing enterocolitis — a serious intestinal complication occurring in premature infants.

A pilot study Parker conducted found that women who started pumping within an hour of birth produced twice as much milk as others in the study, and 30 percent of women who waited six hours before initiation pumping produced no milk for the first three days after delivery.

Parker’s NIH study will assess the optimal time for milk expression after birth, specifically comparing expression within one hour, one to three hours and six hours in a group of 180 randomly assigned mothers. The mothers will receive written and oral pumping instructions and will be visited approximately 24 hours after the initial pumping session to ensure they are using the pump successfully and to provide additional instruction as needed. Upon discharge, mothers will be given a hospital-grade electrical pump.

The mothers’ milk volumes will be assessed at the initial pumping session, for the first seven days and at five other points through 42 days after birth.

Research reported in this news release was supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health under award number 00100160. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

About the Author

Tracy Brown Wright

Former Director of Public Relations and Strategic Communications, College of Nursing

Tracy Wright was director of public relations and strategic communications for the University of Florida College of Nursing. She holds a master's degree in mass communications with a concentration in...Read More