The human milk microbiome: who, what, when, where, why, and how?

Lisa F Stinson, Azhar S M Sindi, Ali S Cheema, Ching Tat Lai, Beverly S Mühlhäusler, Mary E Wlodek, Matthew S Payne, Donna T Geddes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-543
Number of pages15
JournalNutrition Reviews
Issue number5
Early online date19 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021


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