Human milk (HM) is the gold standard for feeding infants but has been associated with slower growth in preterm infants compared with preterm formula. This systematic review and meta-analysis summarises the post-1990 literature to examine the effect of HM feeding on growth during the neonatal admission of preterm infants with birth weight ≤1500 g and/or born ≤28 weeks’ gestation. Medline, PubMed, CINAHL, and Scopus were searched, and comparisons were grouped as exclusive human milk (EHM) vs. exclusive preterm formula (EPTF), any HM vs. EPTF, and higher vs. lower doses of HM. We selected studies that used fortified HM and compared that with a PTF; studies comparing unfortified HM and term formula were excluded. Experimental and observational studies were pooled separately. The GRADE system was used to evaluate risk of bias and certainty of evidence. Forty-four studies were included with 37 (n = 9963 infants) included in the meta-analyses. In general, due to poor quality studies, evidence of the effect of any HM feeds or higher versus lower doses of HM was inconclusive. There was a possible effect that lower doses of HM compared with higher doses of HM improved weight gain during the hospital admission, and separately, a possible effect of increased head circumference growth in infants fed EPTF vs. any HM. The clinical significance of this is unclear. There was insufficient evidence to determine the effects of an exclusive HM diet on any outcomes.
- Human milk
- Preterm infant