Breastfeeding and the origins of health: Interdisciplinary perspectives and priorities

Matern Child Nutr. 2021 Apr;17(2):e13109. doi: 10.1111/mcn.13109. Epub 2020 Nov 19.


Breastfeeding and human milk (HM) are critically important to maternal, infant and population health. This paper summarizes the proceedings of a workshop that convened a multidisciplinary panel of researchers to identify key priorities and anticipated breakthroughs in breastfeeding and HM research, discuss perceived barriers and challenges to achieving these breakthroughs and propose a constructive action plan to maximize the impact of future research in this field. Priority research areas identified were as follows: (1) addressing low breastfeeding rates and inequities using mixed methods, community partnerships and implementation science approaches; (2) improving awareness of evidence-based benefits, challenges and complexities of breastfeeding and HM among health practitioners and the public; (3) identifying differential impacts of alternative modes of HM feeding including expressed/pumped milk, donor milk and shared milk; and (4) developing a mechanistic understanding of the health effects of breastfeeding and the contributors to HM composition and variability. Key barriers and challenges included (1) overcoming methodological limitations of epidemiological breastfeeding research and mechanistic HM research; (2) counteracting 'breastfeeding denialism' arising from negative personal breastfeeding experiences; (3) distinguishing and aligning research and advocacy efforts; and (4) managing real and perceived conflicts of interest. To advance research on breastfeeding and HM and maximize the reach and impact of this research, larger investments are needed, interdisciplinary collaboration is essential, and the scientific community must engage families and other stakeholders in research planning and knowledge translation.

Keywords: breastfeeding; breastmilk; conflict of interest; human milk; infant feeding; lactation; research methodology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Milk, Human*