The Impact of Donor Human Milk on Preterm Infants

The Impact of Donor Human Milk on Preterm Infants

The arrival of a preterm infant marks the beginning of an extraordinary journey, one that often involves navigating the complexities of neonatal care. Donor Human Milk (DHM) has emerged as a crucial resource, offering a lifeline to premature infants by providing essential nutrients and immunological benefits. In this blog post, we will delve into the profound impact of DHM on the health and development of preterm infants, exploring the multifaceted benefits that contribute to their growth, resilience, and well-being.

Understanding the Significance of Donor Human Milk

Donor Human Milk refers to breast milk donated by lactating mothers and carefully screened to meet rigorous safety standards. This precious resource becomes particularly vital in the care of preterm infants, born before their bodies have fully developed, and their nutritional and immunological needs are distinct from full-term infants.

  1. Nutrient-Rich Composition

DHM shares a nutrient-rich composition with maternal milk, providing essential proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals crucial for the growth and development of preterm infants. The unique combination of nutrients in human milk is tailored to meet the specific requirements of premature babies, supporting their delicate systems during a critical phase of development.

  1. Immune Protection

One of the remarkable features of DHM is its immunological richness. It contains antibodies, white blood cells, and various immune factors that contribute to the establishment of a robust immune system in preterm infants. This immune protection is especially crucial for babies born with underdeveloped immune systems, offering defense against infections and reducing the risk of complications.

  1. Prevention of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC)

Necrotizing Enterocolitis is a severe gastrointestinal condition that primarily affects preterm infants. Studies have shown that the use of DHM significantly reduces the risk of NEC in premature babies. The protective factors in donor milk, including immunoglobulins and anti-inflammatory components, contribute to a healthier gut environment, mitigating the risk of this potentially life-threatening condition.

  1. Optimal Brain Development

The essential fatty acids present in DHM, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), play a crucial role in supporting optimal brain development in preterm infants. These fatty acids are vital for the development of the nervous system and cognitive function, contributing to better neurodevelopmental outcomes in the long term.

  1. Improved Growth and Weight Gain

Preterm infants often struggle with achieving optimal growth and weight gain. DHM has been shown to support improved growth parameters in premature babies, ensuring they receive the necessary nutrients for catching up on growth milestones. This is particularly important for the development of organs, tissues, and overall body strength.

  1. Enhanced Gastrointestinal Function

The composition of DHM supports the maturation of the gastrointestinal system in preterm infants. It contains factors that promote the development of a healthy gut microbiome, aiding in digestion and nutrient absorption. This is crucial for infants with underdeveloped digestive systems, helping them tolerate feeds more effectively.

  1. Psychological and Emotional Benefits

Beyond the physical benefits, DHM offers psychological and emotional benefits for both preterm infants and their parents. Knowing that their baby is receiving a nutritionally rich and safe source of milk can alleviate stress for parents, allowing them to focus on bonding and providing emotional support to their fragile newborns.

Implementing Donor Human Milk in Neonatal Care

Establishing Clear Protocols:

Neonatal care units should establish clear protocols for the safe handling, pasteurization, and distribution of DHM. Adhering to stringent guidelines ensures that the milk is free from contaminants while preserving its nutritional integrity.

Lactation Support for Mothers:

Lactation support programs should be in place to encourage and support mothers in establishing their milk supply. While DHM is a valuable resource, efforts to promote breastfeeding should remain a priority, and lactation consultants can play a crucial role in supporting mothers through this process.

Donor Milk Banking Programs:

The creation and expansion of donor milk banking programs facilitate the collection, processing, and distribution of DHM. Collaborative efforts between healthcare providers, lactation consultants, and milk banks contribute to the success of these programs, ensuring a sustainable and safe supply of DHM for preterm infants.

Informed Decision-Making:

Healthcare providers should engage in open and informative discussions with parents about the use of DHM. Informed decision-making involves discussing the benefits, potential risks, and the overall impact on the health and development of preterm infants.


Donor Human Milk stands as a testament to the collective compassion and commitment to the well-being of our tiniest and most vulnerable members of society. Its impact on preterm infants extends beyond providing essential nutrients; it nurtures hope and resilience, offering a bridge to a healthier beginning for those who start their lives with unique challenges. As the field of neonatal care continues to evolve, the continued exploration of the benefits of DHM becomes not just a scientific endeavor but a testament to our shared dedication to ensuring the best possible start for every precious life that begins in the neonatal intensive care unit.


  1. COMMITTEE ON NUTRITION; SECTION ON BREASTFEEDING; COMMITTEE ON FETUS AND NEWBORN. Donor Human Milk for the High-Risk Infant: Preparation, Safety, and Usage Options in the United States. Pediatrics. 2017;139(1):e20163440. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-3440
  1. O’Connor DL, Gibbins S, Kiss A, et al. Effect of Supplemental Donor Human Milk Compared With Preterm Formula on Neurodevelopment of Very Low-Birth-Weight Infants at 18 Months: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2016;316(18):1897-1905. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.16144
  2. Quigley M, Embleton ND, McGuire W. Formula versus donor breast milk for feeding preterm or low birth weight infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019;7(7):CD002971. Published 2019 Jul 19. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002971.pub5
  3. Amissah EA, Brown J, Harding JE. Fat supplementation of human milk for promoting growth in preterm infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020;8(8):CD000341. Published 2020 Aug 25. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000341.pub3
    5.Hair AB, Peluso AM, Hawthorne KM, et al. Beyond Necrotizing Enterocolitis Prevention: Improving Outcomes with an Exclusive Human Milk-Based Diet [published correction appears in Breastfeed Med. 2017 Dec;12 (10 ):663]. Breastfeed Med. 2016;11(2):70-74. doi:10.1089/bfm.2015.0134

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