Pasteurization of human milk may have significant effects on infants’ ability to digest it. A randomized trial was used to compare gastric digestion of pasteurized milk and raw milk in infants.


Human milk has shown to be beneficial for preterm infants in terms of development of the gastrointestinal tract and reduced risks of inflammation or infection. Milk sent to the human milk bank (HMB) undergoes Holder pasteurization, a process where milk is maintained at 62.5 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes. Pasteurization of milk affects its chemical structure, potentially resulting in harmful interaction with the gastrointestinal tract of an infant. A study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzes the impact of Holder pasteurization of human milk on the gastric digestion of preterm infants.

A randomized trial was conducted with 12 preterm infants. The infants were fed with raw human milk and pasteurized human milk over a 6-day period. Raw human milk was collected from the infants’ respective mothers and maintained at 4 degrees Celsius for 24 hours. Pasteurized milk underwent Holder pasteurization and was stored at -20 degrees Celsius. Gastric material was collected both prior to, and after, the intake of raw or pasteurized human milk. Confocal laser scanning microscopy was used to observe the microstructure of human milk.

Results indicated that pasteurization of human milk had an impact on the proteolysis and disintegration of lactoferrin and alpha-lactalbumin, but no significant changes were witnessed in gastric digestion of lipids and proteins. The study recognized that although pasteurization had no effect on gastric lipolysis, any potentially unobserved effects may cause subsequent concerns with fat absorption.

The study appropriately presents data convincing of the fact that Holder pasteurization of human milk does not have significant impacts on the gastric digestion of preterm infants. In order to confirm the assertion, further studies would need to be conducted. The information is valuable for doctors working with preterm infants and their mothers when recommending human milk diets. As of now, Holder pasteurization can also be classified as a safe process for the human milk bank, which enable storage of milk from various donors.

Written By: Shrishti Ahuja, BSc

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