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Pioneering methods to unravel lactation insufficiency

Project description

A nipple sensor to monitor lactation efficiency

The WHO recommends breastfeeding during the first six months of life, underscoring the importance of maternal milk in infant health. However, a significant proportion of women have trouble in producing enough milk. The EU-funded LactIns-and-outs project is interested to understand the causes of lactation insufficiency and determine milk composition during breastfeeding. To achieve this, scientists will develop a compact sensor engineered into a nipple shield. The sensor will integrate an optical-based method that characterises milk fat globules and measures mammary physiological parameters in real time. Implementation of this sensor will improve breastfeeding outcome and help diagnose lactation insufficiency.


Breastfeeding is important for infant and maternal health. However, 10-15% of breastfeeding women fail to produce enough milk, while 40-50% give up early because of perceived insufficiency. As a result, only a minority meet the WHO recommendation to exclusively breastfeed during the first six months. To address this public health challenge, two key questions need to be solved: What do nursing infants actually drink? And how is this milk transfer regulated by mammary physiology?
My vision is to pioneer new, quantitative methods that allow to solve these fundamental questions. Building on my expertise in biophotonic innovations for neonatal care, I propose to develop non-invasive optical tools to quantify milk transfer in situ (WP1) and map the causes of lactation insufficiency from the largely unexplored perspective of mammary physiology (WP2).
In WP1, the scientific challenge is to develop methods for inline monitoring of both the milk volume consumed and its varying composition during a breastfeed. I propose two novel optical methods based on light scattering by milk fat globules, building upon laser Doppler flowmetry (volumetric flow rate) and angular resolved light scattering spectroscopy (composition). The technological challenge is to integrate both methods into a safe, compact sensor prototype, engineered into a nipple shield.
In WP2, I will translate the technology of Diffuse Optical Spectroscopic Imaging (DOSI) to lactation science. Here, the scientific challenge is to quantify mammary physiological parameters in real-time, using DOSI and my sensor from WP1 during live breastfeeds. In both WPs, I will use state-of-the-art (medical) ultrasound for validation.
By engineering dedicated tools for lactation research, this project will enable a leap forward in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of both actual and perceived lactation insufficiency. In turn, this will lead to better breastfeeding support and improved individual and public health outcomes.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 500 000,00
7522 NB Enschede

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Oost-Nederland Overijssel Twente
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 500 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)