To analyse current data on transmission of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) via breast milk with subsequent symptomatic HCMV infection of the preterm infant and to report on long-term follow-up, a systematic literature review was performed using EMBASE, MEDLINE and CINAHL (January 1966 to December 2008) Studies were included for analysis if congenital HCMV infection was excluded and transmission via breast milk was either confirmed or strongly suspected. Twenty-six studies were included for analysis. Maternal HCMV-IgG-positivity was reported to be in the range 51.6-100% (median 81.6%), HCMV-IgG detection in breast milk in the range 67-97.2% (median 80%) and HCMV-positivity of the infants in the range 5.7-58.6%. Symptomatic HCMV disease occurred in 0-34.5% (median 3.7%) and severe sepsis-like syndrome in 0-13.8% (median 0.7%). Data on long-term outcome of preterm infants with symptomatic HCMV infection revealed a low risk for mild neurological and cognitive sequelae, without hearing impairment. Recommendations for high-risk preterm infants diverged markedly. The current data report low rates of symptomatic disease after transmission of HCMV via breast milk to the preterm infant without evidence of certain long-term sequelae. The results of our review do not support a general approach, either by avoidance or pasteurization of breast milk, in high-risk preterm infants.