In the larger study, there did not seem to be any specific benefit to letting the babies smell and taste their milk, however there did seem to be a noticeable difference in the head circumference of the babies when they reached 36 weeks.
Dr Beker said that suggested the feeding method did benefit brain development, which is arguably more important for very pre-term babies than putting on overall weight for long-term health outcomes.
She said the research was still at a very early stage, but seemed to indicate that allowing premature babies to smell and taste their food was worth investigating further.
“This is a very new concept in considering nutrition for premature babies,” Dr Beker said. “People always think about how many calories they are pumping in, but they don’t really take the circumstances into account.”
In their research paper, Dr Beker and her colleagues admit to several difficulties with the study, which they hope can be corrected in the future.
The research was designed as a randomised control study, however because the parents of the babies had to give informed consent, a number of them specifically asked that their child be fed using the new technique.
Ultimately, the researchers pointed out that the smell and taste intervention had no known adverse effects, required little extra time and was easy to apply, with minimal costs, and should be considered while more research is done on whether its effect could be improved.
The findings have been published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.