Breastmilk Ecology: Genesis of Infant Nutrition (BEGIN) Project


A deeper understanding of human milk biology is essential for addressing ongoing and emerging questions about infant feeding practices. Critical pieces of our current understanding include the following:

  • Human milk is a complex biological system, a matrix of many interacting parts, that is more than the sum of those parts.
  • Human milk production should be studied as an ecology that consists of inputs from the lactating parent, their breastfed baby, and their respective environments.

Learn more about the factors that affect the composition of human milk (PDF 387 KB) and its impact on infant and maternal health.

The BEGIN Project, an effort by federal and non-federal partners and extramural investigators and led by NICHD’s Pediatric Growth and Nutrition Branch, was designed to examine this ecology and its functional implications for both parent and infant. BEGIN explores ways in which emerging knowledge can be expanded via a targeted research agenda and translated to support efforts to ensure safe, efficacious, and context-specific infant feeding recommendations and practices in the United States and globally.

Topic Areas

The project includes five working groups organized to address the following themes:

  • Inputs of the lactating parent to milk composition
  • Components of human milk and their interactions within this complex biological system
  • Infant inputs to the matrix, with an emphasis on the bi-directional relationship associated with the breastfeeding pair
  • The application of existing and new technologies and methodologies to study human milk as a complex biological system
  • Approaches to translation and implementation of new knowledge to support safe and efficacious feeding practices

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