Cost savings of human milk as a strategy to reduce the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis in very low birth weight infants

Neonatology. 2015;107(4):271-6. doi: 10.1159/000370058. Epub 2015 Mar 3.


Background: Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a costly morbidity in very low birth weight (VLBW; <1,500 g birth weight) infants that increases hospital length of stay and requires expensive treatments.

Objectives: To evaluate the cost of NEC as a function of dose and exposure period of human milk (HM) feedings received by VLBW infants during the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) hospitalization and determine the drivers of differences in NICU hospitalization costs for infants with and without NEC.

Methods: This study included 291 VLBW infants enrolled in an NIH-funded prospective observational cohort study between February 2008 and July 2012. We examined the incidence of NEC, NICU hospitalization cost, and cost of individual resources used during the NICU hospitalization.

Results: Twenty-nine (10.0%) infants developed NEC. The average total NICU hospitalization cost (in 2012 USD) was USD 180,163 for infants with NEC and USD 134,494 for infants without NEC (p = 0.024). NEC was associated with a marginal increase in costs of USD 43,818, after controlling for demographic characteristics, risk of NEC, and average daily dose of HM during days 1-14 (p < 0.001). Each additional ml/kg/day of HM during days 1-14 decreased non-NEC-related NICU costs by USD 534 (p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Avoidance of formula and use of exclusive HM feedings during the first 14 days of life is an effective strategy to reduce the risk of NEC and resulting NICU costs in VLBW infants. Hospitals investing in initiatives to feed exclusive HM during the first 14 days of life could substantially reduce NEC-related NICU hospitalization costs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight
  • Cost Savings*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / economics
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Very Low Birth Weight*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal / economics*
  • Male
  • Milk, Human*
  • Prospective Studies