Nutrition essentials

40 years of breastmilk research

Mum Breastfeeding

Key Takeaways

  • Over 40 years of scientific research on breast milk
  • Read about Nutricia’s commitment to support breastfeeding within the first 1000 days.

Feeding pioneers: A history of progress

Nutricia is committed to exploring and understanding the wonderful and unique properties of breast milk. That’s why our globally renowned scientists have been dedicated to pioneering research for over 40 years.

We have published over 150 papers within this field, ranging from complex analyses to studies of its beneficial ingredients. Over 250 talented scientists, including biologists, nutritionists, food technologists and doctors, work at our state-of-the-art research units and collaborate closely with laboratories, universities and hospitals worldwide. We’re also advised by an international panel of experts in paediatrics, allergy and immunology. These partnerships allow us to bring the very latest scientific thinking into our research.


In the late 1970s a ground-breaking research programme was developed to decipher the various components and benefits of breast milk, and their effects on infant growth and healthy development, vastly improving our understanding of the nutritional needs of preterm babies.


The 1980s heralded a decade of extraordinary breakthroughs. 1982 saw the discovery of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) in breast milk – nutrients important for brain and visual development. Further key developments in the dietary management of infant food and intolerances followed soon after.


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Our researchers detected human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) in breast milk for the first time. These non-digestible carbohydrates encourage healthy gut bacteria, and help support the immune system.


40 years after we took our first steps in breast milk research, we continue to lead the way. Ultimately, our goal is to understand the complexity and variability of human milk together with the consistent benefits it confers in the first 1000 days. We are only just beginning to unravel the mysteries of human milk, for example how it responds to both internal and external stimuli such as the environment, maternal diet and lifestyle, and even the gender and health status of the infant.

Moreover, we will continue to share this knowledge and expertise with the scientific community, healthcare professionals and parents alike in order to better support and empower them to optimise their breastfeeding journey.

Inspired by breast milk, our pioneering research continues.



  1. Pietrobelli, A. and Agosti, M. (2017). Nutrition in the First 1000 Days: Ten Practices to Minimize Obesity Emerging from Published Science. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(12), p.1491.
  2. FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Fats and Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition, Interim Summary of Conclusions and Dietary Recommendations on Total Fat& Fatty Acids, 10-14 November, 2008, WHO, Geneva
  3. Youdim, K.A., Martin, A. and Joseph, J.A., 2000. Essential fatty acids and the brain: possible health implications. International journal of developmental neuroscience, 18(4-5), pp.383-399.
  1. Lee, J. (2013). Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Children. Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition, 16(3), p.153.
  2. Brain and eye development: Koletzko B et al. J Perinat Med 2008; 36:5–14, Birch E et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2010; 91:848-859,Koletzko B et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2019;00:1–7
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