(BPT) – As a micropreemie born at just 25 weeks, baby Willow faced many complications of prematurity.

To help her survive, Willow received countless treatments in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). One of the most beneficial, according to Willow’s mom, Perry, was her nutrition.

For premature and critically ill infants like Willow, breast milk is more than food. It is medicine. And in addition to Perry’s breast milk, Willow’s diet also included a nutritional fortifier made from 100% donor breast milk. This combination represents the highest standard of care for extremely premature infants.

Tiny babies, big nutritional needs

While breast milk has important nutrients that support short-term and long-term health, breast milk alone does not provide enough calories, protein, and minerals for premature babies.

Premature babies, like Willow, require a nutritional fortifier be added to their mom’s milk or donor breast milk for their survival.

“Many parents don’t realize the crucial role nutrition plays in the survival, health, and growth of premature babies,” said Dr. Melinda Elliott, neonatologist and chief medical officer of Prolacta Bioscience. “Premature infants require up to 20% to 40% more calories and protein than full-term babies due to the vital nutrition they missed in the third trimester. The only way to deliver this additional nutrition is with a nutritional fortifier.”

Breast milk-based fortifiers vs. cow milk-based fortifiers

There are two kinds of fortifiers used in the NICU: cow milk-based and breast milk-based. Both are labeled as “human milk fortifier,” but they are not the same.

Cow milk-based fortifiers are linked to an increased risk of life-threatening complications in premature infants. Fortifiers that are 100% breast milk-based, like those made by Prolacta, are clinically proven to reduce complications, improve health, and get premature babies home sooner.

Fortunately, Willow’s NICU team gave her the best chance of survival by adding Prolacta’s 100% breast milk-based fortifiers to her diet. Incredibly, Willow was the first baby to receive these fortifiers at her hospital. After only 69 days in the NICU, Willow went home, healthy and strong.

After witnessing Willow’s incredible return to health, the hospital now only uses Prolacta’s 100% breast milk-based fortifiers to get premature babies healthier and home sooner. Thanks to Willow, other babies born at this hospital now have a better chance of survival.

Today, Willow is a thriving and vibrant 2-year-old who is meeting and exceeding her childhood milestones. Following in the footsteps of her older sister, Willow can do somersaults and plans to start cheerleading when she turns 3.

“I didn’t realize there was a difference in fortifiers until our NICU team explained it to me. I’m so grateful Willow received Prolacta’s fortifiers. They were lifesaving and helped her become the happy and healthy toddler she is now,” Perry said.

Willow’s mom, Perry, was so inspired by Willow’s NICU journey that she graduated from nursing school this past June. Perry’s ultimate goal is to work in the very same NICU where Willow defied the odds. Perry says it’s her turn to provide hope to other families.

Advocating for your baby’s nutrition in the NICU

Today we have a deeper understanding of the life-saving benefits of nutritional fortifiers made from 100% breast milk.

As November is Prematurity Awareness Month, it’s an ideal time to educate yourself about the importance of nutrition in the NICU for premature infants, as well as honor families experiencing a NICU stay.

If your baby is in the NICU, ask your medical team about nutrition and what type of fortifier they are using: 100% breast milk or cow milk-based? Advocating for the highest standard of care will give your baby the best chance for a future like Willow’s.

To learn more, visit: https://www.prolacta.com/en/parents/.