The Impact of Human Milk on Outcomes for Infants with Congenital Heart Disease: A Systematic Review

Kristin M. Elgersma, Anne Chevalier McKechnie, Erica N. Schorr, Kavisha M Shah, Anna L. Trebilcock, Sara E. Ramel, Matthew B. Ambrose, Nellie Munn Swanson, Samantha A. Sommerness, Diane L. Spatz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Infants with congenital heart disease (CHD) are at risk for feeding-related morbidity and mortality, with growth failure and oral feeding problems associated with poor outcomes. The benefits of human milk (HM) for preterm infants have been well documented, but evidence on HM for infants with CHD has recently begun to emerge. Objectives: Our primary aim was to examine the impact of HM feeding on outcomes for infants with CHD. Methods: Following PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses) guidelines, a search was conducted using MEDLINE, CINAHL, and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The quality of each study was assessed using the Joanna Briggs Critical Appraisal Tools. A total of 16 studies were included. Results: There was evidence that an exclusive HM diet reduces the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) for infants with CHD. Evidence with a higher risk for bias indicated that a well-managed HM diet may be associated with improved growth, shorter length of stay, and improved postoperative feeding and nutritional outcomes. Chylothorax outcomes were similar between modified HM and medium-chain triglyceride formula. The studies had significant limitations related to power, lack of control for covariates, and inconsistent delineation of feeding groups. Conclusions: Based on the reduced risk for NEC and given the conclusive benefits in other vulnerable populations, we recommend that clinicians and institutions prioritize programs to support HM feeding for infants with CHD. Large high-quality studies are needed to validate these results. Future work should clarify best practices in managing an HM diet to support optimal growth and development for these infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-411
Number of pages19
JournalBreastfeeding Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.


  • Congenital
  • Heart defects
  • Human
  • Infant
  • Infant health
  • Infant nutritional physiological phenomena
  • Milk

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Systematic Review


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