UWA stepping up for breastfeeding during World Breastfeeding Week

With ongoing ground-breaking studies and several active projects that breastfeeding families can volunteer to be involved in, researchers at The University of Western Australia are celebrating advances in education and support during World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7).

“Today we’re striving to bring the same diversity, passion and innovation to lactation research to make positive impacts on mothers, babies and communities worldwide.”
-Professor Donna Geddes, UWA

Professor Donna Geddes from UWA’s School of Molecular Sciences and leader of the Geddes Hartmann Human Lactation Research Group, said UWA’s proud tradition as part of the global chain of support for breastfeeding began in the 1970s under the late Emeritus Professor Peter Hartmann.

“Today we’re striving to bring the same diversity, passion and innovation to lactation research to make positive impacts on mothers, babies and communities worldwide,” Professor Geddes said.

Recent findings of Professor Geddes’ team have helped overturn long-held beliefs about breastfeeding and identified potential causes of some of the issues that impact nursing mothers. 

“Recently we discovered that the process of switching on milk production is often delayed and can be reduced in mothers with gestational diabetes, important knowledge which directly informs clinical support for breastfeeding women,” Professor Geddes said.

“To address this, we’ve now been funded by the Channel 7 Telethon Trust to conduct a randomised controlled trial to increase breastfeeding in these women. 

“We’re also investigating the impact of milk composition on infant growth in large cohorts of mums and babies in Perth, Victoria, Sydney, South Africa, and Singapore – an important piece of the puzzle in devising strategies to reduce obesity in later life.”

Details of the Geddes Hartmann Human Lactation Research Group projects requiring breastfeeding volunteers can be found here.

Breastfeeding researchers CARD
Image: UWA researchers (from left to right) Professor Valerie Verhasselt, Professor Donna Geddes and Dr Melinda Boss

Professor Valerie Verhasselt is Director of the Larsson Rosenquist Foundation Centre for Immunology and Breastfeeding at UWA’s Medical School and Telethon Kids Institute. By investigating the way that breastmilk guides children’s immune development, the Centre provides evidence-based recommendations for the development of happy and healthy kids.

Professor Verhasselt’s recent findings provide guidance on mothers’ diets during breastfeeding such as allergen consumption for better food allergy prevention. 

Along with collaborators in Uganda, she is exploring a potential game changer in the field of vaccination –
research providing evidence that breastfeeding may be a natural, and very efficient, way to vaccinate children and protect them from infectious disease, including malaria, the most severe public health problem worldwide.

With the support of Channel 7 Telethon Trust, Professor Verhasselt’s team is also investigating the importance of colostrum for growth, allergy and infection prevention. This knowledge will inform changes in clinical practice and drive policy changes, such as increased budgets to community and health services for early breastfeeding support.

And the LactaMap Research Group, led by Dr Melinda Boss from UWA’s School of Allied Health, continues to work to improve the delivery of evidence-based lactation knowledge to the community.  The popular short courses for health professionals interested in furthering their knowledge of lactation will be offered again in early 2023. 

Dr Boss has partnered with Pharmacy777 to pioneer a pharmacy-based breastfeeding screening and support service and recently launched a new study into understanding breastfeeding experiences in the community. Breastfeeding mothers can contact melinda.boss@uwa.edu.au to participate.

To inquire about donating to breastfeeding research, contact Kate McKenzie or Laura Burton via development@uwa.edu.au