Salt supplements vital for brain development of premature babies

Salt is critical to the brain development of premature babies, suggests research in the Fetal and Neonatal Edition. Language, memory, intelligence and coordination were all better in children, who had been born premature but whose diets had been supplemented with salt shortly after birth.

The study focused on 37 children who had been monitored since birth. All had been born before or at 33 weeks of pregnancy. Between the ages of 10 and 13 the children were tested for competency in movement and balance, IQ, memory, learning, and language. They were also assessed for behavioural problems. All the tests used were recognised and validated measures of performance.

Sixteen of the children had received a salt supplement of 4 to 5 millimoles per kg of body weight a day – about one twentieth of a teaspoon – in their feed four to 14 days after birth; the other 21 children had not.

The results showed that on average, the children whose feeds had been supplemented with salt scored 10 per cent higher than their prematurely born peers in memory, learning and language. And their physical coordination, IQ, general memory and behaviour were significantly better.

The authors conclude that babies born several weeks early require a higher salt intake for their first two weeks of life than babies born after the full nine months or thereabouts. And they suggest that failure to supplement a premature newborn’s diet with salt could compromise their subsequent neurodevelopment in childhood.

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