The nutritional composition and energy content of donor human milk: A systematic review

Maryanne T. Perrin, Mandy B. Belfort, James I. Hagadorn, Jacqueline M. McGrath, Sarah N. Taylor, Lauren M. Tosi, Elizabeth A. Brownell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends donor human milk (DHM) as the preferred feeding strategy for preterm infants when the milk of the mother is unavailable, based on conclusive evidence of lower rates of necrotizing enterocolitis with DHM feedings compared with preterm infant formula. The nutritional composition of DHM may differ from maternal milk for many reasons including differences in maternal characteristics, milk collection methods, and the impact of donor milk banking practices. The purpose of this systematic review is to examine the literature regarding research on the fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamin, and mineral composition of DHM obtained through nonprofit milk banks or commercial entities. PubMed, CINAHL, and Scopus databases were searched for articles published between 1985 and 30 April, 2019. In total, 164 abstracts were screened independently by 2 investigators, and 14 studies met all inclusion criteria. Studies were predominantly small (<50 samples) and measured macronutrients. Few studies assessed vitamins and minerals. Information bias was prevalent due to the use of a variety of analytical methods which influence accuracy and cross-study comparisons. Other sources of information bias included missing information regarding methods for protein and calorie assessment. Despite these limitations, existing research suggests the potential for 2-fold and greater differences in the fat, protein, and energy composition of DHM, with mean values for energy and fat often below clinical reference values expected for human milk. Further research is warranted regarding the nutritional composition of DHM, with a prioritization on measuring macronutrients and micronutrients using established reference methods. Adv Nutr 2020;11:960-970.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)960-970
Number of pages11
JournalAdvances in Nutrition
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021


  • Breastmilk
  • Composition
  • Donor milk
  • Human milk
  • Milk banking
  • Preterm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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