Human milk: a source of more life than we imagine

Benef Microbes. 2013 Mar 1;4(1):17-30. doi: 10.3920/BM2012.0040.


The presence of bacteria in human milk has been acknowledged since the seventies. For a long time, microbiological analysis of human milk was only performed in case of infections and therefore the presence of non-pathogenic bacteria was yet unknown. During the last decades, the use of more sophisticated culture-dependent and -independent techniques, and the steady development of the -omic approaches are opening up the new concept of the 'milk microbiome', a complex ecosystem with a greater diversity than previously anticipated. In this review, possible mechanisms by which bacteria can reach the mammary gland (contamination versus active migration) are discussed. In addition, the potential roles of human milk for both infant and maternal health are summarised. A better understanding of the link between the milk microbiome and health benefit, the potential factors influencing this relationship and whether or not it can be influenced by nutrition is required to open new avenues in the field of pregnancy and lactation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biota*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Metagenome*
  • Milk, Human / microbiology*
  • Pregnancy