Fat-Modified Breast Milk Resolves Chylous Pleural Effusion in Infants With Postsurgical Chylothorax but Is Associated With Slow Growth

JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2016 May;40(4):543-51. doi: 10.1177/0148607114566464. Epub 2015 Jan 5.


Background: Chylothorax occurs in ~3%-5% of infants undergoing cardiac surgery. Standard treatment requires discontinuation of breast milk feeding, due to the abundance of long-chain triglycerides and transition to a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT)-based formula.

Objective: To determine the effectiveness of fat-modified breast milk (MBM) for the treatment of chylothorax compared with MCT formula.

Materials and methods: Infants diagnosed with chylothorax following surgery for congenital heart disease between January 2008 and December 2009 at The Hospital for Sick Children were eligible for this nonrandomized open-label study. Treatment infants (n = 8) received mother's own milk that had been modified by removing the fat layer via centrifugation and adding MCT, nutrients, and essential fatty acids to provide an estimated 74 kcal/100 mL and 1.4 g/100 mL protein (MBM group). Control infants (n = 8) received an MCT formula (MCT group). The feeding intervention was a minimum of 6 weeks after chest tube removal per The Hospital for Sick Children standard chylothorax treatment protocol.

Results: Daily volume and duration of chest tube drainage were not different between the MBM and MCT groups. While there was no statistically significant difference in rates of weight gain (g/d) between feeding groups, infants in the MBM group, who tended to be younger, experienced a decline in mean weight (P = .04) and length (P = .01) for age z scores.

Conclusion: Fat-modified breast milk resolved chylothorax; however, strategies to address poor growth need to be developed and evaluated in larger trials prior to widespread clinical adoption of this novel treatment.

Keywords: cardiac disease; enteral nutrition; life cycle; nutrition; nutrition assessment; pediatrics; research and diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chylothorax / etiology
  • Chylothorax / prevention & control
  • Chylothorax / therapy*
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Fats / analysis
  • Dietary Fats / isolation & purification
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula / analysis
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Male
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Pleural Effusion / therapy
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Triglycerides / adverse effects
  • Triglycerides / chemistry
  • Triglycerides / isolation & purification
  • Weight Gain


  • Dietary Fats
  • Triglycerides