Preterm Walsall babies who are prone to developing a serious intestinal condition will be given a new treatment from today.
Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust’s Neonatal Unit is one of just a few units in the region to offer this.
Probiotics will be given to preterm babies who are less than 32 weeks old or less than 1500 grams in weight to reduce their risk of developing a potentially serious condition called Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC) that is seen particularly in this vulnerable group of babies.
NEC is a serious illness in which tissues in the intestine become inflamed and start to die. This can lead to a perforation developing which allows the contents of the bowel to leak into the stomach. This can cause a very dangerous infection. It is the most common surgical emergency in premature babies.
It can be difficult to diagnose but the symptoms tend to include general signs of illness, problems feeding or vomiting and a swollen and tender abdomen. In many cases, NEC can be treated without surgery, by resting the bowel by using intravenous feeding and treating any infection with antibiotics. Some babies may need an operation.
Preterm babies frequently develop an unusual bacterial flora in their intestines, often due to treatment with antibiotics. These unusual bacteria can increase the risk of Necrotising Enterocolitis. Probiotics work by replacing these unusual bacteria with normal bacteria, and by strengthening the baby’s immune response to infection. There is good research evidence that probiotics reduce the risk of NEC and improve babies’ ability to tolerate milk feeds.
The product is in the form of a powder which is mixed with either expressed breast milk or sterile water before being given. It can be given either orally or via an enteral feeding tube.
When asked how it felt to be one of the few units to start this treatment, which has arisen from a Quality Improvement initiative, Trust Neonatal Clinical Lead and Consultant Paediatrician, Dr Ashok Karupaiah said:
“Current evidence from neonatal units in the UK and across the world shows that probiotics are safe and reduce the risk of Necrotising Enterocolitis.
“We are very proud of the fact that we are one of the few units to use the recommended strains of probiotics in preterm and very low birth weight babies.
“This treatment will further enhance the care that we provide to babies in Walsall. We are very excited to start using probiotics as current evidence shows they also have other benefits like reducing the rates of late onset sepsis.”
One of the patients who will be starting this treatment today is baby Eden Rose.
First-time mum Ebeny Mansell, 18, from Blakenall delivered daughter Eden Rose Watkinson on 11 February at 31 weeks and six days. Eden Rose weighed 3lbs 10oz when she was born and was taken to Walsall Manor’s Neonatal Unit within hours of her birth.
Ebeny said: “I’m proud to be the first mum in Walsall to benefit from probiotics. I hope my daughter feels the benefit too – anything that is going to help her, I am happy to give her and by having this, she should soon start putting on weight.”