Breastfeeding Week Panel

6 August 2019



baby parents

Baby Family

From evidence to empowerment – translating UWA breastfeeding research into practice

World Breastfeeding Week is held each August, in alignment with the WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, supported by a global network of individuals and organisations dedicated to the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide.

This year the theme is ‘Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding’, highlighting the links between gender-equitable parental social protection, values and social norms and the support of breastfeeding.

To mark the occasion, three of UWA’s leading breastfeeding researchers will share their projects and participate in a panel discussion. Parents, extended families, health professionals and interested members of the general public are invited to join the discussion.

Speakers and Topics for Discussion

What does the research tell us about the role of breastfeeding in allergy prevention?

While breastfeeding is recognised as the most efficient strategy for infectious disease prevention, there is inconsistent evidence for its effects on allergy prevention. Because allergy is a recent disease, we propose that breastmilk composition has not had the time to adapt to prevent this modern disease. Our translational research is highlighting which factors in breastmilk are keen to promote, or to hinder, the long term acceptance of allergens by our immune system. Ultimately, our research will lead to the identification of maternal intervention, which will ensure allergy prevention by breastfeeding. This will add an important string to the bow of the beneficial effects of breastfeeding in an era where allergic diseases are surpassing childhood infectious disease morbidity.

Professor Valerie Verhasselt joined UWA School of Molecular Sciences in 2017 as the Larsson-Rosenquist Chair in Human Lactology - the first such position in the world. She trained at the University of Medicine of Brussels (ULB, Belgium) where she obtained the diploma of Medical Doctor (1992), Specialist in Internal Medicine (2000) and a PhD in Immunology (1999). Valerie and her passionate team perform translational research aimed at understanding how maternal milk influences the development of the immune system and conditions immune health in the long-term. A major objective guiding her work is the identification of factors which could endow breastfeeding with the capacity to prevent allergic and metabolic disease as potently as it does for infectious disease.

Breastfeeding the baby reduces obesity and related diseases later in life: how does that work?

Despite great changes in our diet in the past 50 years, breastfeeding still appears to reduce obesity risk and associated diseases later in life. How does this happen? Latest research at UWA suggests it is the amount of milk the baby receives as well the different components in milk.  These factors contribute to the growth of the baby as well as the development of the baby’s body composition (i.e. how much fat and muscle the baby develops), thus setting the baby up for better health later in life.

Associate Professor Donna Geddes is the Director and Chief Investigator of the Hartmann Human Lactation Research Group in the School of Molecular Sciences. She heralds from a medical imaging background specialising in ultrasound and undertook her PhD with Professor Hartmann at UWA. She utilizes her ultrasound imaging skills to assess the lactating breast (anatomy, milk ejection and blood flow) as well as the infant (suck-swallow-breathe, gastric emptying and body composition). Her current interests include understanding the role of breastmilk in appetite control and the development of breastfeeding in the preterm infant. She believes that research can assist in understanding some of the causes of breastfeeding problems and also allow design of good solutions for mothers and babies.

LactaMap, an online lactation care support system

In high income countries around the world, most women and infants are not experiencing normal lactation function. Doctors, obstetricians and paediatricians are reporting that they lack the breastfeeding education for the knowledge and skills expected of them. LactaMap is an evidence-based online tool designed to provide the information doctors need to support the care of women and infants experiencing difficulty with breastfeeding. This presentation describes LactaMap and the methodology behind its development.

Melinda Boss is a Senior Research Fellow with the School of Allied Health, undertaking her PhD in tandem to launching LactaMap and Lactapedia (a glossary to provide a common language for health practicioners). Her training in pharmacy has given her a keen eye for detail and her passion for breastfeeding support stems from the influence of her father, Professor Peter Hartmann. In 2019 she was recognised as WA Pharmacist of the Year by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. LactaMap was globally launched on 26th of March 2019 during the Webinar of the Breastfeeding Innovations Team (Group on LinkedIn), hosted by Leith Greenslade (CEO JustActions, New York, USA). The tool is free of charge worldwide. The support of the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation is gratefully acknowledged as the major sponsor of LactaMap and sole sponsor of LactaPedia. The support of The Rotary Club of Southern Districts is gratefully acknowledged for contribution to LactaMap.


Dr Stuart Prosser is a husband, father and doctor with extensive experience in general practice, anaesthetics, GP obstetrics and medical administration. He is a UWA Medical School alumnus (MBBS 2000) and UWA honorary research fellow. He consistently advocates for a multi-disciplinary approach to health care, one that increases the quality of both the patient experience and outcome. His unique experience and passions led to the founding of One for Women, a multi-disciplinary clinic whose key goals are to provide premium maternity care without the premium price and be a world leader in fourth-trimester care.