A supplement given to breastfed premature babies after they leave hospital can prevent weight loss at a crucial time in their development, a small study suggests.
Doctors in Southampton found eight weeks of extra nutrients led to better growth in babies a year later.
It also gave mothers confidence and encouraged them to continue breastfeeding, they report.
Larger studies are now needed to confirm the findings.
Breast milk alone does not always meet the dietary needs of vulnerable babies born before 37 weeks, with about half failing to grow properly.
Dr Luise Marino, clinical academic paediatric dietician at Southampton Children’s Hospital, said all babies’ weights dip by about 10% soon after birth, through water loss.
“But you don’t want preterm babies to do that,” she said.
“They don’t have as much fat, minerals or iron, so they need extra nutrients.”