A survey of the databanks Medline and Web of science identified studies dealing with maternal and infant iodine nutrition during breast feeding. The iodine concentration of human milk varies widely due to maternal iodine intake. Mean breast milk iodine concentrations are reported as ranging from 5.4 to 2170 microg/L (median 62 microg/L) in worldwide studies. In the few studies that compared length of lactation, gestation length, and parity number, these factors did not significantly affect milk-iodine concentrations. In studies of maternal iodine deficiency, untreated goiter had no impact on breast milk iodine when compared with controls. Iodine in human milk responds quickly to dietary iodine intake, either supplemented or consumed in natural foods. Easily absorbable iodine from foods, supplemental sources, iodine-based medication or iodine-based antiseptic solutions used during parturition, is taken up by the maternal thyroid and mammary glands through the Na(+)/I(-) symporter system. This transmembrane carrier protein transports iodine against a high concentration gradient. Hormonal iodine in breast milk occurs mainly as T-4, but depending on maternal iodine intake, high concentrations of the inorganic form (iodide) are found. In less developed countries, where natural-food-iodine intake is low, adequate maternal iodine nutritional status depends exclusively on enforcement of food iodination. In industrialized countries, maternal iodine intake has increased as a function of increasing consumption of dairy products. The human infant is sensitive to maternal iodine nutrition during fetal development and later during breast feeding. Environmental factors, not directly related to maternal iodine intake, such as intake of selenium and organochlorine pollutants, can affect thyroid hormone homeostasis in breast-fed infants. In spite of low iodine concentrations found in milk of mothers consuming low-iodine natural foods, long lasting or even life-lasting benefits to the breast-fed infant are demonstrable.