Multi-nutrient fortification of human milk for preterm infants

Jennifer VE Brown, Nicholas D Embleton, Jane E Harding, William McGuire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Exclusively breast milk-fed preterm infants may accumulate nutrient deficits leading to extrauterine growth restriction. Feeding preterm infants with multi-nutrient fortified human breast milk rather than unfortified breast milk may increase nutrient accretion and growth rates and may improve neurodevelopmental outcomes.

OBJECTIVES: To determine whether multi-nutrient fortified human breast milk improves important outcomes (including growth and development) over unfortified breast milk for preterm infants without increasing the risk of adverse effects (such as feed intolerance and necrotising enterocolitis).

SEARCH METHODS: We used the standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group. This included electronic searches of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2016, Issue 2), MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) (until February 2016), as well as conference proceedings and previous reviews.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials that compared feeding preterm infants with multi-nutrient (protein and energy plus minerals, vitamins or other nutrients) fortified human breast milk versus unfortified (no added protein or energy) breast milk.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We extracted data using the standard methods of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group. We separately evaluated trial quality, data extracted by two review authors and data synthesised using risk ratios (RRs), risk differences and mean differences (MDs). We assessed the quality of evidence at the outcome level using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach.

MAIN RESULTS: We identified 14 trials in which a total of 1071 infants participated. The trials were generally small and weak methodologically. Meta-analyses provided low-quality evidence that multi-nutrient fortification of breast milk increases in-hospital rates of growth (MD 1.81 g/kg/d, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.23 to 2.40); length (MD 0.12 cm/wk, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.17); and head circumference (MD 0.08 cm/wk, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.12). Only very limited data are available for growth and developmental outcomes assessed beyond infancy, and these show no effects of fortification. The data did not indicate other potential benefits or harms and provided low-quality evidence that fortification does not increase the risk of necrotising enterocolitis in preterm infants (typical RR 1.57, 95% CI 0.76 to 3.23; 11 studies, 882 infants).

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Limited available data do not provide strong evidence that feeding preterm infants with multi-nutrient fortified breast milk compared with unfortified breast milk affects important outcomes, except that it leads to slightly increased in-hospital growth rates.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD000343
Number of pages46
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016, The Cochrane Collaboration. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details


  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature/growth & development
  • Milk, Human/chemistry
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic

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