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Sharp Health News

Helping preterm babies thrive

Aug. 7, 2019

Helping preterm babies thrive

Breastmilk was both food and medicine for Baby Saybie, the world’s smallest baby, born at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

Human breastmilk has more than 200 components and contains the ideal balance of nutrients, antibodies, hormones and growth factors for optimal health and development.

This combination can be life-saving, especially for premature babies weighing less than 1,500 grams (about 3.3 pounds) and born at less than 34 weeks gestation.

Breastmilk played an important role in the growth and development of Saybie*, born in December 2018 at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns at just 23 weeks gestation. She weighed a mere 245 grams (about 8.6 ounces), and is considered the world’s smallest baby ever to survive.

On day two of life, Saybie received her mother’s first milk, also known as colostrum, by swabbing her mouth. For micro preemies like Saybie, this milk — known as “liquid gold” — is critical. Colostrum and breastmilk enhance immune function as well as provide a significant protection against bacteria, fungi and viruses.

“With every drop of colostrum, a baby receives 3 million immune cells,” says Holly Schroeder, registered dietitian in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Sharp Mary Birch. “We consider breastmilk a medicine, as well as a food.”

In the second week of life, Saybie was fed 1 to 2 milliliters per feeding of her mother’s breastmilk through a feeding tube. The amount of breastmilk per feeding was gradually increased as she developed.

The dedicated teams in the NICU work closely with mothers to obtain their own breastmilk when they can supply it. If breastmilk from a baby’s mother isn’t available, donated breastmilk from other healthy moms is used. Donated breastmilk is carefully screened and pasteurized by the Mothers' Milk Bank in San Jose. The NICU then purchases the donor breastmilk for babies in need.

The nourishment in breastmilk helps many prematurely born babies go home sooner from the hospital.

“We use donated breastmilk every day at Sharp Mary Birch,” says Sandra Cole, clinical supervisor of lactation at Sharp Mary Birch. “We are so thankful to women who donate their extra milk to help other babies survive and thrive.”

*Sharp HealthCare respects the privacy of its patients and their families. While Saybie’s family gave their permission to share her story, they wish to remain anonymous.

Learn more about the breastmilk donor program at Sharp HealthCare.

For the news media: To talk with Holly Schroeder about nutrition in the NICU for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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