Economic benefits and costs of human milk feedings: a strategy to reduce the risk of prematurity-related morbidities in very-low-birth-weight infants

Adv Nutr. 2014 Mar 1;5(2):207-12. doi: 10.3945/an.113.004788.


Infants born at very low birth weight (VLBW; birth weight <1500 g) are at high risk of mortality and are some of the most expensive patients in the hospital. Additionally, VLBW infants are susceptible to prematurity-related morbidities, including late-onset sepsis, bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), necrotizing enterocolitis, and retinopathy of prematurity, which have short- and long-term economic consequences. The incremental cost of these morbidities during the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) hospitalization is high, ranging from $10,055 (in 2009 US$) for late-onset sepsis to $31,565 for BPD. Human milk has been shown to reduce both the incidence and severity of some of these morbidities and, therefore, has an indirect impact on the cost of the NICU hospitalization. Furthermore, human milk may also directly reduce NICU hospitalization costs, independent of the indirect impact on the incidence and/or severity of these morbidities. Although there is an economic cost to both the mother and institution for providing human milk during the NICU hospitalization, these costs are relatively low. This review describes the total cost of the initial NICU hospitalization, the incremental cost associated with these prematurity-related morbidities, and the incremental benefits and costs of human milk feedings during critical periods of the NICU hospitalization as a strategy to reduce the incidence and severity of these morbidities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia / epidemiology*
  • Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia / prevention & control
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / epidemiology*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / growth & development*
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight / growth & development*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Milk, Human*
  • Morbidity
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity / epidemiology*
  • Retinopathy of Prematurity / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors