Faculty of Science

Better understanding breastfeeding

The Human Lactation Research Group aims to gain a greater understanding of the synthesis and secretion of breast milk, as well as the mechanisms for removing milk from the breast by either a suckling infant or by expressing it with an electric breast pump.

Understanding these mechanisms will facilitate more successful breastfeeding and the clinical management of human lactation.

To achieve this objective requires a fundamental understanding of the physiology and biochemistry of:

  • breast growth and development
  • milk synthesis
  • milk secretion
  • milk ejection
  • mechanics of breastfeeding
  •  infant appetite 


The research in human lactation, in particular has required the development of non-invasive, sensitive methods such as:

  • bioluminescent assays and metabolomics for the investigation of changes of the metabolism of the mammary gland,
  • a Computerised Breast Measurement system for the measurement of the short-term rates of milk synthesis, the physiological storage capacity of the breast for milk and the degree of fullness of the breast in lactating women’
  • ultrasound to investigate the anatomy of the lactating breast, the body composition of infants, and the gastric emptying rate of infants.

The Group's past and present research encompasses the entire lactation cycle (pregnancy, initiation of lactation, established lactation and weaning) and has had a strong comparative theme with investigations in a number of species (rats, rabbits, ewes, cows, sows and women). 

Key researchers/personnel

Key sites