Human Milk Feeding and Preterm Infants' Growth and Body Composition: A Literature Review

Nutrients. 2020 Apr 21;12(4):1155. doi: 10.3390/nu12041155.


Preterm infants may show a higher risk of adverse health outcomes, such as the development of metabolic syndrome and cognitive impairment. The most recent evidence highlights that nutrition, body composition development, and early postnatal growth may play a role in the programming of these processes. Human milk feeding has been recommended as the natural feeding for preterm infants and as a cost-effective strategy for reducing disease and economic burden. Considering that the postnatal growth retardation and aberrant body composition shown by preterm infants at the time of hospital discharge still remain important issues, we performed a literature review, aiming to provide an update about the effect of human milk feeding on these processes. On the basis of our findings, human milk feeding in preterm infants, although related to a slower weight gain than formula feeding, is associated with a better recovery of body composition through the promotion of fat-free mass deposition, which may ultimately lead to better metabolic and neurodevelopmental outcomes. Promotion and support of human milk feeding should be considered a priority in preterm infants' care.

Keywords: body composition; growth; human milk feeding; preterm infant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition*
  • Body Fat Distribution
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Health*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / growth & development*
  • Infant, Premature / metabolism*
  • Milk, Human*
  • Weight Gain