Background: Preterm infants are immunologically immature at birth. Previous studies have demonstrated that human milk protects against infection in full-term infants, but there are few studies of its effect for preterm infants.
Objective: To examine the effect of human milk feedings on infection incidence among very low birth weight (VLBW) infants during their initial hospitalization.
Study design: The sample consisted of 212 consecutive VLBW infants admitted to the Georgetown University Medical Center neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) during 1992-1993 and surviving to receive enteral feeding. Type of feeding (human milk vs formula), presence of infection and sepsis/meningitis (clinical signs and positive cultures for pathogenic organisms), and potential confounding variables were abstracted from medical records. Multiple logistic regression was used to control for confounders.
Results: The incidence of infection (human milk [29.3%] vs formula [47.2%]) and sepsis/meningitis (human milk [19.5%] vs formula [32.6%]) differed significantly by type of feeding. Major risk factors for infection were similar in both groups. Human milk feeding was independently correlated with a reduced odds of infection (odds ratio [OR] = 0.43; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.23-0.81), controlling for gestational age, 5-minute Apgar score, mechanical ventilation days, and days without enteral feedings; and was independently correlated with a reduced odds of sepsis/meningitis (OR = 0.47, 95% CI:0.23-0. 95), controlling for gestational age, mechanical ventilation days, and days without enteral feedings.
Conclusions: The incidence of any infection and sepsis/meningitis are significantly reduced in human milk-fed VLBW infants compared with exclusively formula-fed VLBW infants.