Human Milk Bioactive Components and Child Growth and Body Composition in the First 2 Years: A Systematic Review

Meredith (Merilee) Brockway, Allison I. Daniel, Sarah M. Reyes, Julia M. Gauglitz, Matthew Granger, Joann M. McDermid, Deborah Chan, Rebecca Refvik, Karanbir K. Sidhu, Suad Musse, Pooja P. Patel, Caroline Monnin, Larisa Lotoski, Donna T. Geddes, Fyezah Jehan, Patrick Kolsteren, Lars Bode, Kamilla G. Eriksen, Lindsay H. Allen, Daniela HampelNatalie Rodriguez, Meghan B. Azad

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Human milk (HM) contains macronutrients, micronutrients, and a multitude of other bioactive factors, which can have a long-term impact on infant growth and development. We systematically searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, Scopus, and Web of Science to synthesize evidence published between 1980 and 2022 on HM components and anthropometry through 2 y of age among term-born infants. From 9992 abstracts screened, 141 articles were included and categorized based on their reporting of HM micronutrients, macronutrients, or bioactive components. Bioactives including hormones, HM oligosaccharides (HMOs), and immunomodulatory components are reported here, based on 75 articles from 69 unique studies reporting observations from 9980 dyads. Research designs, milk collection strategies, sampling times, geographic and socioeconomic settings, reporting practices, and outcomes varied considerably. Meta-analyses were not possible because data collection times and reporting were inconsistent among the studies included. Few measured infant HM intake, adjusted for confounders, precisely captured breastfeeding exclusivity, or adequately described HM collection protocols. Only 5 studies (6%) had high overall quality scores. Hormones were the most extensively examined bioactive with 46 articles (n = 6773 dyads), compared with 13 (n = 2640 dyads) for HMOs and 12 (n = 1422 dyads) for immunomodulatory components. Two studies conducted untargeted metabolomics. Leptin and adiponectin demonstrated inverse associations with infant growth, although several studies found no associations. No consistent associations were found between individual HMOs and infant growth outcomes. Among immunomodulatory components in HM, IL-6 demonstrated inverse relationships with infant growth. Current research on HM bioactives is largely inconclusive and is insufficient to address the complex composition of HM. Future research should ideally capture HM intake, use biologically relevant anthropometrics, and integrate components across categories, embracing a systems biology approach to better understand how HM components work independently and synergistically to influence infant growth.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100127
JournalAdvances in Nutrition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • anthropometry
  • bioactives
  • body composition
  • breastfeeding
  • breastmilk
  • growth
  • hormones
  • human milk
  • human milk oligosaccharides
  • immunomodulatory
  • infant
  • lactation
  • metabolomics


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