Effects of maternal prebiotic supplementation on breastfeeding, breastmilk composition and infant growth

Does maternal prebiotic consumption enhance the breastfed baby?


The Childhood Allergy and Immunology Research Team is currently conducting a randomised controlled trial, known as the SYMBA Study, which is investigating the effects of maternal prebiotic fibre supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding on maternal and infant outcomes.

‘Prebiotics’ is a general term for non-digestible dietary fibre that promote health and well-being by inducing the growth and/or activity of beneficial gut bacteria.

A mother’s diet during pregnancy and lactation may have effects on her breastfeeding, breast milk composition and development of infant body composition and growth.

To explore this hypothesis we will carry out extensive measures of an array of components (macro and micronutrients, microbiome, short chain fatty acids and others) in the milk of mothers that received prebiotic fibre supplementation and those that did not. We will then explore relationships with infant growth to determine if supplementation improves infant outcomes.


This is a sub-study nested within the ORIGINS Birth Cohort.

Project goals:

  • To compare breast milk composition between mothers who have taken prebiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding and those that received a placebo (RCT)
  • To explore relationships between breast milk composition and infant growth in women supplemented with prebiotics and those receiving a placebo.

This PhD student project will involve laboratory analysis of breast milk samples and data analysis of maternal diet, infant feeding and infant growth outcomes. The student will be based at the Telethon Kids Institute (Joondalup Health Campus and Perth Children’s Hospital sites) and at University of Western Australia (Crawley Campus).

For more information visit the Hartmann Human Lactation Research Group website:

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Research team leaders: Professor Donna Geddes and Dr Debbie Palmer

Prof Geddes is a lactation biologist, with a major focus on the mechanisms by which breastfeeding programme early and later life health outcomes. She is located at the School of Molecular Sciences at UWA where she measures milk composition in relation to infant outcomes. She leads a large group that works in the areas of human milk microbiome, metabolomics, biochemistry and physiology.

Dr Debbie Palmer (BSc, BND, PhD) is head of the Childhood Allergy and Immunology Research Group at the Telethon Kids Institute. The primary research focus for this research group is investigating nutritional and environmental strategies for allergic disease prevention. The research group conducts randomised controlled clinical trials, mechanistic studies, and translatable research activities.


Funding and Collaborations


  • This project is partially funded by an unrestricted research grant from Medela AG (Donna Geddes)
    Prescott S, Keelan J, Simmer K, Palmer D, Allcock R, Lassmann T. NHMRC Project Grant ID: 1099480 ($1,681,512.40 for 2016-2021). Title: Dietary modulation of maternal gut flora with oligosaccharides in pregnancy as a novel allergy prevention strategy.



How to Apply 

Check criteria
  • To be accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy, an applicant must demonstrate they have sufficient background experience in independent supervised research to successfully complete, and provide evidence of English language proficiency
  • Requirements specific to this project -
    • A minimum 2A Honours degree or Masters degree in a related field
    • Undergraduate degree in science/ biomedical science/relevant degree
    • Eligible to enrol in a PhD at UWA
    • Excellent communication skills including oral presentation and writing
Submit enquiry to research team leader 
  • Contact the research team leader by submitting an Expression of Interest form via the button below
  • After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, contact [email protected] to proceed with your application


Scholarship specific to this project
  • Top-up scholarship offered by project group
Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.