The benefits of feeding human milk to human infants are well-established. Preterm infants, particularly those born with very low birthweight (VLBW; <1,500 g), are a uniquely vulnerable population at risk for serious, life-threatening complications as well as disruptions in normal growth and development that can affect their lives into adulthood. Feeding VLBW preterm infants an exclusive human milk diet (EHMD) from birth that consists of the mother’s own milk or donor human milk plus a nutritional fortifier made exclusively from human milk has been associated with a reduction in morbidity and mortality and improved early growth and developmental metrics. Preliminary evidence suggests that the health benefits of adopting an EHMD (or avoiding cow milk products) early in life may last into adulthood. This review briefly summarizes the history of breastfeeding and describes the available evidence on the benefits of an EHMD among VLBW preterm infants as well as the importance of high-quality manufacturing standards for producing safe and effective human milk–based products.

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