Mucosal Immunity and Liver Metabolism in the Complex Condition of Lactation Insufficiency

Courtney B. Betts, Alexandra Quackenbush, Weston Anderson, Nicole E. Marshall, Pepper J. Schedin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Lactation insufficiency is variously defined and includes the inability to produce milk, not producing enough milk to exclusively meet infant growth requirements, and pathological interruption of lactation (e.g., mastitis). Of women with intent-to-breastfeed, lactation insufficiency has been estimated to affect 38%–44% of newly postpartum women, likely contributing to the nearly 60% of infants that are not breastfed according to the World Health Organization’s guidelines. To date, research and clinical practice aimed at improving feeding outcomes have focused on hospital lactation support and education, with laudable results. However, researchers’ reports of recent rodent studies concerning fundamental lactation biology have suggested that the underlying pathologies of lactation insufficiency may be more nuanced than is currently appreciated. In this article, we identify mucosal biology of the breast and lactation-specific liver biology as two under-researched aspects of lactation physiology. Specifically, we argue that further scientific inquiry into reproductive state-dependent regulation of immunity in the human breast will reveal insights into novel immune based requirements for healthy lactation. Additionally, our synthesis of the literature supports the hypothesis that the liver is an essential player in lactation—highlighting the potential that pathologies of the liver may also be associated with lactation insufficiency. More research into these biologic underpinnings of lactation is anticipated to provide new avenues to understand and treat lactation insufficiency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)582-590
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Human Lactation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • breast immunology
  • breastfeeding
  • insufficient milk
  • lactation
  • lactation disorders
  • liver metabolism
  • mastitis
  • maternal physiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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