Without doubt, breast milk is vital for premature babies. One study of premature babies who were tube-fed breast milk or artificial milk, but were never breastfed directly, showed that the babies who received no breast milk had IQS 8 points lower on average than those who received breast milk. Human milk has special ingredients like DHA (docosohexaenoic acid) and AA (arachidonic acid) which contribute to brain and retinal development. And all breastfed babies tend to spend a lot of their time in the "quiet alert" state which is most conducive to learning.
Breastfeeding has other special benefits for premature infants. Premature breast milk contains different amounts of some nutrients than term breast milk, more suited to the needs of premature babies. Necrotizing Enterocolitis, a serious bowel inflammation, is very rare for breastfed infants. And of course they get the same immune protection, which may be even more critical for prematures, and has been shown to reduce the risk of sepsis in these babies. Suckling at the breast, and digesting breast milk, cause less stress for the premature baby than bottle-feeding does; so most prematures can go to breast as soon as they are able to suckle. It’s vital that a mother of a premature baby breastfeeds her baby as soon as possible. Because of the reduction in infections and the shorter time to full feeding, breastfed premature infants can usually leave the incubator sooner. For some babies, breastfeeding is a life-and-death matter. In addition to its known benefit where water supplies are unsafe or food supplies erratic, breastfeeding lowers the risk of SIDS in all populations.
There are very few reasons, particularly from the baby's point of view, to avoid breastfeeding. Most authorities in the West recommend that mothers who are HIV positive not breastfeed; however, in many areas of the world breastfeeding's known benefits outweigh the small risk of transmission from breast milk. Few other medical conditions should prevent a mother from breastfeeding, as there are many medications that are suitable for use in breastfeeding moms.
Breastfeeding's immunologic and developmental benefits may be particularly important for babies with medical problems such as congenital heart disease, cleft palate, Down's syndrome, etc. In cases where the baby has a problem which affects its ability to suckle at the breast, expressed breast milk from mother is still the best choice. Banked human milk, the availability of which is unfortunately limited, would be the second choice. Commercial artificial baby milks are preferable to other alternatives, but far from perfect substitutes for human milk. These companies are always announcing that they’ve added a "new" component to their commercial formula to make it closer to human milk. But for every new artificial cone added, several more components of human milk