Cytomegalovirus in Human Breast Milk: Risk to the Premature Infant

Robert M. Lawrence
Breastfeeding Medicine. 2006, 1(2): 99-107.


Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) can be transmitted through breast milk to neonates. Although healthy full-term infants rarely develop symptoms of CMV infection; premature or low-birth-weight infants can experience symptomatic infection that is occasionally severe. There is limited information on the long-term effects of postnatal CMV infection in premature infants, suggesting that these infants do not develop cognitive function delays or hearing loss, although those with intrapartum infection do. Readily available methods of treating breast milk to inactivate the CMV either diminish the immunologic and nutritive benefits of breast milk or incompletely inactivate the virus.

This review considers the data on measuring CMV in breast milk, the recent clinical studies on CMV transmission via breast milk, reported methods of inactivation of CMV in breast milk, and immunologic factors that may play a role in transmission. CMV-IVIG treatment needs further evaluation but appears promising. Recommendations are made to help address the issue of CMV transmission to premature infants in clinical practice in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).