Donor human milk for low-birth-weight infants
Every year, more than 20 million infants are born weighing less than 2500 g – over 96% of them in developing countries. These low-birth-weight infants are at increased risk of early growth retardation, infectious disease, developmental delay and death during infancy and childhood.
Low birth weight can be a consequence of preterm birth, or due to small size for gestational age, or both. In addition, a small proportion of low-birth-weight infants are born at term and are not small for gestational age.
Interventions to improve the feeding of low-birth-weight infants are likely to improve the immediate and longer-term health and well-being of the individual infant and have a significant impact on neonatal and infant mortality levels in the population.
WHO recommends that low-birth-weight infants should be fed mother's own milk. When a mother's own breast milk is not available, the alternatives are either expressed breast milk from a donor mother or formula milk. Available evidence shows that compared with formula, donor human milk is associated with lower incidence of the severe gut disorder, necrotising enterocolitis, and other infections during the initial hospital stay after birth.
WHO recommends that low-birth-weight infants, including those with very-low-birth-weight, who cannot be fed mother's own milk should be fed donor human milk.
This recommendation is relevant for settings where safe and affordable milk-banking facilities are available or can be set up.
This is one of several WHO recommendations on feeding of low-birth-weight infants. The full set of recommendations can be found in 'Full set of recommendations' and in the guideline, under ‘WHO documents’ below.