The Human Lactation Project

The composition of human milk is unique to the human species and confers a myriad of health benefits to our young yet composition varies widely between mothers. We seek to understand the factors that influence composition, particularly those that regulate infant appetite control and infant body composition. We aim to expand the understanding of milk synthesis in lactating women as emerging evidence points to cases of low milk production due to underdevelopment of the mammary gland. This study explores the removal of milk from the breast, which is critical to sustained milk production, by both the infant and breast pumps to help the treatment of women experiencing lactation difficulties and those that are pump dependent.

The composition of human milk varies widely between mothers and contains appetite control hormones such as leptin and ghrelin that have been implicated in appetite control and infant growth although the mechanisms of these processes are not well understood. In this study we analyse a number of hormones to understand their synergy and relationship to infant feeding behaviour, maternal and infant body composition. A greater understanding of this early life programming will ultimately direct the development of early evidence-based interventions that will potentially improve long term health.

An adequate milk production is also critical to optimal growth of the human infant. It is often assumed that most women are able to produce enough milk for their infant however emerging evidence from animal models suggest that low milk production may be related to obesity and other factors. It is therefore important to understand the factors that impact the lactation cycle from pregnancy to weaning. The collection of many 24 hour milk profiles that enable assessment of infant milk intake as well as estimation of milk production allows us to explore both maternal and infant factors that potentially affect milk production.

The initiation of lactation is dependent upon many hormonal changes, however short-term milk synthesis is reliant on effective removal of milk from the breast and is essential to sustained milk production. We have developed techniques that enable us to objectively assess the effectiveness and efficiency of milk removal by both the infant and the breast pump, which allows testing of lactation management strategies, and new pumping techniques or regimes.

Most of the research performed by this large group involves a combination of modalities creating powerful studies that provide more comprehensive and clinically translatable results.
The group also collaborates with many national and international scientists such as Professor Karen Simmer, Professor Susan Prescott and Professor Robert Trengove, Professor Diane Spatz, Professor David Cameron-Smith, Associate Professor Lars Bode and Assistant Professor Fatemeh Hassanipour.

Collaborator/s

  • Professor David Cameron-Smith, The University of Auckland, New Zealand
  • Dr Fatemeh Hassanipour, The University of Texas, Dallas, Texas, USA
  • Professor Diane Spatz, The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA