Variation in the Protein Composition of Human Milk during Extended Lactation: A Narrative Review

Nutrients. 2018 Aug 20;10(8):1124. doi: 10.3390/nu10081124.


The aim of this review is to evaluate changes in protein parameters in the second year postpartum. There is considerable agreement among authors about the declining trend of human milk protein concentrations, but most research on protein content in breast milk focuses on the first year of life and comes from developed countries. Whereas this is the case for exclusive breastfeeding or for breastfeeding into the first year of life, the opposite applies to weaning or extended breastfeeding. This review is predominantly based on observational epidemiological evidence and on comparative research linking breast milk composition with cutting down on breastfeeding. Studies dating back several decades have shown an increase in the proportion of immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, and serum albumin during weaning. According to the limited data available, it seems likely that the regulation of milk protein composition during involution can be ascribed to alterations in tight junctions. In studies on humans and other mammalian species, offspring suckle more from mothers that produce more dilute milk and the increase in milk protein concentration is positively correlated to a decrease in suckling frequency during weaning. High milk protein contents were first reported in nonindustrial communities where breastfeeding is sustained the longest, but recent papers from urbanized communities have taken credit for rediscovering the increase in protein content of human milk that becomes evident with prolonged breastfeeding. This review presents an overview of the changes in breast milk protein parameters in the second year postpartum to enable milk banks' practitioners to make informed nutritional decisions on preterm infants.

Keywords: breastfeeding; human milk physiology; lactation chemistry; milk bank; nutritional requirements; premature infant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulins / blood
  • Infant
  • Lactation*
  • Lactoferrin / blood
  • Milk Proteins / analysis*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Serum Albumin / metabolism
  • Weaning


  • Immunoglobulins
  • Milk Proteins
  • Serum Albumin
  • Lactoferrin