Immunology of Human Milk and Lactation: Historical Overview

Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2020:94:11-26. doi: 10.1159/000505211. Epub 2020 Mar 10.


The development of the mammary glands and the process of lactation is an integral component of mammalian evolution, and suckling has been essential for the survival of the neonates of most mammalian species. The colostrum and milk, the major products of lactation, contain a wealth of biologically active products derived from the immunologic and microbiological experiences in the maternal circulation and in the maternal mucosal surfaces. These include major immunoglobulin isotypes in the maternal circulation, secretory IgA, a variety of soluble proteins, casein, nutritional components, hormones, a large number of cellular elements and their secreted functional products (cytokines and chemokines), several peptides, lipids, polysaccharides and oligosaccharides, and a diverse spectrum of microorganisms. During the past few decades, significant new information has become available about the evolutionary biology of mammalian lactation, the functional characterization of antibody and cellular immunologic products, the role of oligosaccharides and other proteins and peptides, and about the distribution and biologic functions of the microbiome observed in human products of lactation. This workshop explores this information in some detail in a series of presentations. A brief overview of the earlier observations on the immunologic aspects of lactation is presented here, and detailed reviews of more recent observations are reported in subsequent presentations in this workshop.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Feeding
  • Colostrum
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lactation*
  • Milk
  • Milk, Human*
  • Pregnancy


  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory