Role of Breast Milk

  • Jacqueline C. Kent
  • Lukas Christen
  • Foteini Hassiotou
  • Peter E. Hartmann


Breast milk provides all the necessary macronutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, bioactive molecules) at concentrations that completely support the growth and development of the term infant for the first six months of life. This is underlined by the fact that growth charts produced by the World Health Organization are developed from data only from exclusively breastfed infants. In addition to its function as a source of nutrition, breast milk contains multiple components that provide the infant with protection from infection before its own defence mechanisms are fully developed. The rates of infection in exclusively breastfed infants are lower compared to infants fed artificial formula, not only in the developing world where standards of hygiene are less than ideal, but also in first world countries. Breast milk continues to provide both nutrients and protection from infection for at least the first year of life as complementary foods are introduced. Ongoing research continues to elucidate the beneficial effects of breast milk.

Although there has been no evolutionary pressure for the breast milk of mothers of preterm infants to adapt to the requirements of these vulnerable infants, preterm milk, at least initially, shows differences from term milk that are advantageous for the growth and development of the preterm infant. Additionally, the immune protective factors in breast milk have been shown to have a significant effect on decreasing the number of infections suffered by the preterm infant.


Preterm Infant Breast Milk Casein Micelle Breastfed Infant Human Milk Oligosaccharide 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



PEH, FH and JCK are recipients of an unrestricted research grant from Medela AG (Switzerland). LC receives scholarship support from Carag AG (Switzerland). FH also received scholarship support from the Women and Infants Research Foundation, Western Australia.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacqueline C. Kent
    • 1
  • Lukas Christen
    • 1
  • Foteini Hassiotou
    • 1
    • 2
  • Peter E. Hartmann
    • 1
  1. 1.Hartmann Human Lactation Research Group, School of Chemistry and BiochemistryThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Anatomy, Physiology and Human BiologyThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

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