Unraveling the Mysteries of Human Milk: Present and Future


Breastfeeding continues to steadily increase in the US, with 83.2% of infants in 2019 breastfed for some duration. Strong evidence supports health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and infants. Indeed, human milk is considered the ideal source of nutrition for infants worldwide. Despite this, there are significant knowledge gaps in our understanding of the nutritional composition of human milk. Without better knowledge of this infant food that for many represents the only food or fluid for the first six months of life, community, clinical and research RDNs remain challenged in defining and implementing best practices for infant nutrition. In fact, this knowledge gap impairs infant nutrition for both breastfed infants and even infants who receive nutrition through breastmilk substitutes modeled on our understanding of human milk. This session, guided by human milk experts, will discuss current limitations of our human milk composition understanding; summarize the best available evidence regarding human milk macronutrient, micronutrients, and bioactive factors; identify important directions of future research, including areas where RDNs have unique contributions; and translate the implications of this information for RDNs whose practice includes lactating women and any infant, breastfed or otherwise.

Learning Objectives

Describe limitations of understanding of human milk composition

Identify research barriers RDNs can help mitigate

Apply evidence-based practice for RDNs working with women and infants in the infant feeding realm

Performance Indicators

8.1 Interprets and applies current food and nutrition science in nutrition and dietetics practice

12.1 Advocates for health promotion and disease prevention in communities, in populations and globally

4.1 Demonstrates sound professional judgment and strategic thinking in practice


Paige Berger

Investigator of Pediatrics and Instructor of Pediatrics

Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Maryanne Perrin

Associate Professor

The University of North Carolina Greensboro, Department of Nutrition

Joann McDermid

2023-4 Chair, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Council on Research

Self-employed, Consultant


Ashley Vargas

Team Lead and Program Officer

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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