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Pediatr Clin North Am. 2001 Feb;48(1):13-34.

Anatomy and physiology of lactation.

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Department of Physiology, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, Colorado, USA.


Milk secretion is a robust process that proceeds normally in at least 85% of women postpartum. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, with assistance in the techniques of breastfeeding, at least 97% of women can successfully breastfeed their infants. The causes of lack of success in breastfeeding are not well understood because, at least in Western societies, when infants fail to thrive on the breast, formula substitution is easy. Although this article is not the place to discuss possible pathologic mechanisms, breastfeeding failure usually occurs at approximately the first week postpartum, and a much better understanding of the mechanisms by which milk secretion is initiated during this period may help researchers to understand why some women have severe problems with lactation. The general understanding of the mechanisms of milk secretion is fairly good, but the regulatory mechanisms at the cellular and molecular levels have not been given adequate attention and are ripe for future investigation. Other areas that require attention are the behavior correlates of breastfeeding and the transfer of drugs and toxins into milk. The latter may have a long-term impact on infant health and should receive increased attention.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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