Unique components of human milk

Understanding how biochemical components of human milk influence infant growth and development

Human milk is a heterogeneous fluid that contains numerous nutritional and bioactive components. In the past, we identified protein, lactose, sodium and citrate in human milk as the biomarkers for the stage of lactation as well as pathologies such as mastitis.

In addition, we have used the fat content in human milk combined with infant test weighing to establish the fullness of the lactating breast and thereby estimate the volume of milk contained within the breast. The use of milk components as biomarkers provides a non-invasive and objective measure to understand milk synthesis, milk removal and supports the exploration of the health of both the breast and milk.

Building our knowledge in this area will allow the development both diagnostic tests and evidence-based interventions that have a greater chance of improving both maternal and infant health on a global scale.

Our research group is continuously seeking to redefine and develop analytical methodologies not only to discover new components of human milk but to advance the scientific accuracy of human milk analysis.

Trace metals and synthetic contaminates in human milk

Although the majority of milk components are synthesized in the lactocyte, trace metals and synthetic contaminants are likely transferred into milk via the maternal bloodstream.

These components have the potential to greatly influence the growth and development of infants.

This study is aimed at determining the levels of trace metals and synthetic contaminants in a historical cohort of milk samples collected from lactating mothers in Perth, Western Australia, over the past 10 years. 

This project will explore the influences of rapid growth of the local population and dramatic changes in nutrition and lifestyle over the past 10 years on these milk components.

Appetite hormones in human milk

During lactation, the breastfed infant drives milk production in that milk supply meets the infant's demand.

The demand-fed infant feeds to appetite thus exhibiting different growth patterns to the formula-fed infant. However, the regulatory mechanisms of breastfeed infants are not well understood.

Appetite hormones, such as leptin and gherlin, are present in human milk and are believed to participate in the programming of appetite as well as having multiple roles for the infant. Thus this study aims to comprehensively characterise appetite hormones in breast milk across lactation and investigate their relationship to breastfeeding behaviour. Further, the association of these hormones with infant body composition will be explored.

For more background information, see the suggested readings below.

Research team leader: Dr Donna Geddes

I am the Senior Research Fellow directing the Human Lactation Research Group. I have a deep interest in understanding the mechanisms by which human milk and breastfeeding confer their benefits to infants. The long-term benefits of breastfeeding (for example decreased obesity, diabetes) suggest lactation plays a major role in programming the health of infants. Increasing knowledge of this programming phenomenon allows us to develop strategies that will enhance health when lactation issues occur.

PhD opportunities

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an applicationDifferent application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


CRICOS Code: 00126G
Monday, 22 October 2018 9:14 AM (this date excludes nested assets)
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