The Human Milk Microbiome: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?

Nutr Rev. 2020 May 19;nuaa029. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa029. Online ahead of print.


Human milk (HM) contains an incredible array of microorganisms. These likely contribute to the seeding of the infant gastrointestinal microbiome, thereby influencing infant immune and metabolic development and later-life health. Given the importance of the HM microbiota in this context, there has been an increase in research efforts to characterize this in different populations and in relation to different maternal and infant characteristics. However, despite a decade of intensive research, there remain several unanswered questions in this field. In this review, the "5 W+H" approach (who, what, when, where, why, and how) is used to comprehensively describe the composition, function, and origin of the HM microbiome. Here, existing evidence will be drawn together and critically appraised to highlight avenues for further research, both basic and applied. Perhaps the most interesting of these is the potential to modulate the HM microbiome using pre/probiotics or dietary interventions. Another exciting possibility is the personalization of donor milk for women with insufficient supply. By gaining a deeper understanding of the HM microbiome, opportunities to intervene to optimize infant and lifelong health may be identified.

Keywords: bacteria; breast milk; breastfeeding; human milk; lactation; microbiome.