A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Human Milk Feeding and Morbidity in Very Low Birth Weight Infants

Jacqueline Miller, Emma Tonkin, Raechel Damarell, Andrew McPhee, Machiko Suganuma, Hiroki Suganuma, Philippa Middleton, Maria Makrides, Carmel Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

277 Citations (Scopus)


This systematic review and meta-analysis synthesised the post-1990 literature examining the effect of human milk on morbidity, specifically necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), late onset sepsis (LOS), retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) and neurodevelopment in infants born ≤28 weeks’ gestation and/or publications with reported infant mean birth weight of ≤1500 g. Online databases including Medline, PubMed, CINAHL, Scopus, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched, and comparisons were grouped as follows: exclusive human milk (EHM) versus exclusive preterm formula (EPTF), any human milk (HM) versus EPTF, higher versus lower dose HM, and unpasteurised versus pasteurised HM. Experimental and observational studies were pooled separately in meta-analyses. Risk of bias was assessed for each individual study and the GRADE system used to judge the certainty of the findings. Forty-nine studies (with 56 reports) were included, of which 44 could be included in meta-analyses. HM provided a clear protective effect against NEC, with an approximate 4% reduction in incidence. HM also provided a possible reduction in LOS, severe ROP and severe NEC. Particularly for NEC, any volume of HM is better than EPTF, and the higher the dose the greater the protection. Evidence regarding pasteurisation is inconclusive, but it appears to have no effect on some outcomes. Improving the intake of mother’s own milk (MOM) and/or donor HM results in small improvements in morbidity in this population.

Original languageEnglish
Article number707
Number of pages35
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia
  • Donor human milk
  • Formula feeding
  • Human milk
  • Necrotising enterocolitis
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Preterm infant
  • Retinopathy of prematurity
  • Sepsis


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