The hidden universe of human milk microbiome: origin, composition, determinants, role, and future perspectives

Eur J Pediatr. 2022 May;181(5):1811-1820. doi: 10.1007/s00431-022-04383-1. Epub 2022 Feb 5.


Although traditionally considered sterile, human milk is currently recognized as an alive ecosystem that harbors not only bacteria, but also viruses, fungi and yeasts, and minor genera, collectively known as the human milk microbiome (HMM). The seeding of HMM is a complex phenomenon whose dynamics are still a matter of research. Many factors contribute to its determination, both maternal, neonatal, environmental, and related to human milk itself. The transmission of microorganisms to the infant through breastfeeding may impact its present and future health, mainly shaping the GI tract microbiome and immune system. The existence and persistence of HMM as a conserved feature among different species may also have an evolutionary meaning, which will become apparent only in evolutionary times.

Conclusion: The complexities of HMM warrant further research in order to deepen our knowledge on its origin, determinants, and impact on infants' health. The practical and translational implications of research on HMM (e.g., reconstitution of donor human milk through inoculation of infant's own mother milk, modulation of HMM through maternal dietary supplementation) should not be overlooked.

What is known: • Human milk harbors a wide variety of microorganisms, ranging from bacteria to viruses, fungi and yeasts, and minor genera. • Human milk microbiome is shaped over time by many factors: maternal, neonatal, environmental, and related to human milk itself. • The transmission of microorganisms through breastfeeding may impact the infant's present and future health.

What is new: • We provide an overview on human milk microbiome, hopefully encouraging physicians to consider it among the other better-known breastfeeding benefits. • Further studies, with standardized and rigorous study designs to enhance accuracy and reproducibility of the results, are needed to deepen our knowledge of the human milk microbiota and its role in newborn and infant's health.

Keywords: Determinants; Evolution; Human milk microbiome; Mycobiome; Origin; Virome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Microbiota*
  • Milk, Human / microbiology
  • Reproducibility of Results