Food insecurity and maternal diet influence human milk composition in Central-Africa

Title: Food insecurity and maternal diet influence human milk composition between the infants’ birth and 6 months after birth in Central-Africa

Authors: Jeanne H. Bottin, et al
Published: 2023


The study ‘Food insecurity and maternal diet influence human milk composition between the infants’ birth and 6 months after birth in Central-Africa’ seeks to characterize and quantify the influence of food insecurity and maternal under-nourishment on human milk composition.

The publication is first of three in the MITICA series (Mother to Infant Transmission of Microbiota in Central Africa) conducted in collaboration with Institut Pasteur to explore the indirect effects of maternal food insecurity on infant gut microbiota.

The study observes 46 mothers with 48 infants in Bangui, Central Africa, from birth until 6 months, assessing maternal undernourishment status at delivery, maternal diet, and human milk nutrient composition.

To measure food insecurity, the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS) and Household Hunger Scale (HHS) were utilized, with the latter tool being specifically validated to measure household hunger in food insecure areas and to integrate cultural differences.

The results show high food insecurity indexes being highly associated with lower levels of many of the human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), lower levels of retinol (aß-coef = −0.2, p value = 0.04), fatty acids (aß-coef = −7.2, p value = 0.03) and amino acids (aß-coef = −2121.0, p value < 0.001). Women from food insecure households also displayed significantly higher levels of lactose in their milk (aß-coef = 3.3, p value = 0.02). In parallel, the consumption of meat, poultry and fish was associated with higher HMO levels, total amino acids (aß-coef = 5484.4, p value < 0.001, and lower human milk levels of lactose (aß-coef = 3.3, p value = 0.02). Additionally, the study discovered a high food insecurity burden, as well as a low diverse maternal diet.

Food insecurity and maternal diet, via nutrient intake reduction in human milk, might exert a considerable impact on the infant’s undernourishment risk. For example, HMOs provide fucose and sialic acid, which are essential for brain development. The results of the study plead for consistent actions on food security as an effective manner to influence the nutritional content of human milk and thereby, potentially improve infant survival and healthy growth.

This study is followed by MITICA 2: Human milk nutritional composition across lactational stages in Central Africa.

Read the full publication here: Nutrients | Free Full-Text | Food Insecurity and Maternal Diet Influence Human Milk Composition between the Infants Birth and 6 Months after Birth in Central-Africa (

These findings from European Human Milk Cohort Studies may also be of interest: Human Milk Cohort Studies – Infographic | Danone Nutricia Research