Background: Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a frequent cause of mortality and morbidity in very low birth weight (VLBW) infants. Human milk (HM) feeding has been associated with lower risk of NEC. However, mothers of VLBW infants often experience insufficient milk production, resulting in mixed feedings of HM and formula. Moreover, medical complications often limit the volume of feeding they can be given.
Objective: To determine if high proportions of (50% or greater) HM enteral feeding within the first 14 days of life are protective against NEC.
Method: This was a prospective cohort study of VLBW infants who were grouped according to the HM proportion of enteral feeding in the first 14 days: <50% (low human milk, LHM, n=46) and > or =50% (high human milk, HHM, n=156). The outcome of interest was development of NEC (Bell stage 2 or 3). Logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) and to assess potential confounding due to perinatal risk factors.
Result: Two hundred and two infants were studied. Confirmed NEC occurred in 5/46 (10.6%) of the LHM group, as compared with 5/156 (3.2%) of the HHM. Gestational age was the only perinatal factor associated with risk of NEC. After adjustment for gestational age, HHM was associated with a lower risk of NEC ((OR=0.17, 95% CI: 0.04 to 0.68), P=0.01).
Conclusion: Enteral feeding containing at least 50% HM in the first 14 days of life was associated with a sixfold decrease in the odds of NEC.