Breast-Feeding Improves Gut Maturation Compared With Formula Feeding in Preterm Babies

Kostan W. Reisinger*, Loes de Vaan, Boris W. Kramer, Tim G. A. M. Wolfs, Ernest van Heurn, Joep P. M. Derikx

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is higher in formula-fed babies than in breast-fed babies, which may be caused by breast-feeding-induced gut maturation. The effect of breast-feeding on gut maturation has been widely studied in animal models. This study aimed to assess the effects of breast-feeding on intestinal maturation in prematurely born babies by evaluating postnatal changes in urinary intestinal fatty acid binding protein (I-FABP) levels, a specific enterocyte marker. METHODS: Gut maturation in 40 premature babies (<37 weeks of gestation) without gastrointestinal morbidity was studied, of whom 21 were exclusively breast-fed and 19 were formula-fed infants. Urinary I-FABP levels as the measure of gut maturation were measured at 5, 12, 19, and 26 days after birth. RESULTS: In breast-fed infants, there was a significant increase in median urinary I-FABP levels between 5 and 12 days after birth (104 [78-340] pg/mL to 408 [173-1028] pg/mL, P = 0.002), whereas I-FABP concentration in formula-fed infants increased between 12 and 19 days after birth (105 [44-557] pg/mL, 723 [103-1670] pg/mL, P = 0.004). Breast-fed babies had significantly higher median urinary I-FABP levels at postnatal day 12 (P = 0.01). CONCLUSIONS: The time course of the postnatal increase in urinary I-FABP levels reflecting gut maturation was significantly delayed in formula-fed babies, suggesting a delayed physiological response in formula-fed compared with breast-fed infants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)720-724
JournalJournal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • breast-feeding
  • formula feeding
  • intestinal fatty acid binding protein
  • mucosal damage
  • necrotizing enterocolitis

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