Ellen Demerath Lab

Welcome to our lab page!

MILK Study Updates, January 2021:

A fond goodbye to study coordinator Laurie Foster...
All of our Minnesota participants have interacted with study coordinator Laurie Foster, who was with the MILk Study from the very beginning. In 2020, Laurie moved to Boston and onto another research position. She leaves this message for all of our participants:
Laurie in BostonI will not be seeing you all at the follow up MILK study visits when they start up as I have moved to Boston to be closer to family. I was extremely lucky to be a part of the MILK study for more than 4 years and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have met you and your babies. Thank you for sharing those moments in your lives with me and the study. Happy 2021 to you all! Fondly, Laurie

Tipper Gallagher...and a "hello" to Tipper Gallagher

Our new study coordinator, Tipper Gallagher, has been working behind the scenes to help launch the second phase of the MILk Study. With five years of experience working as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) at Hennepin Healthcare, she's eager to lend her breastfeeding expertise to the families participating in this study. Tipper is also a PhD student in the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota, which gives her a foundation in research methods and data collection that will keep the MILk Study scientifically rigorous. 

We look forward to seeing your five-year-olds—and new babies!—in 2021!

COVID-19 Research Update & Resources

MILK study updates, May 2020

MILK study updates, May 2020

We are hoping all is well as your kiddos grow! We are very grateful for your continued participation in the MILk Study! We are happy to announce that we have received funding for the next part of the study that will involve you and your MILk study child coming back in to the study center when he/she is about 5 – 6 years old so we can see how they are growing and talk to you about your family’s health and nutrition.

We are not yet able to start scheduling those visits though as research at the University of Minnesota is on hold due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Once it is safe for you and your child to come in with all the necessary precautions in place, we will be in touch.

In the meantime, we will be contacting you about a couple of things we can do to keep the study moving forward while we are waiting to see you again in person:

  • We continue to learn about the composition of breastmilk and we would like your consent to measure new things in the breastmilk samples you generously gave us during the study visits.
  • We have a short questionnaire asking your family is dealing with COVID-19.

Below are some additional resources you may find helpful in navigating the pandemic with children, as well as updated study findings.

COVID-19 family resource links

Research Data & Developments

By investigating how our biology predicts and affects breastmilk production, we hope our research will support the needs of women as individuals. By studying how biology influences breastmilk nutrition, we hope to learn more about why breastmilk is such a good meal for growing babies.

We are busy working with the data we’ve collected so far! Below are some recent findings and statistics from the MILK study:

Preliminary Data: The MILK study's first subjects

Preliminary Data: The MILK study's first subjects

Completed all 3 visits24692
Female babies54%41%
Male babies46%59%
Average birth weight (lbs)7.727.88
% of study babies with big brothers/sisters53%66%
% of study babies that are first babies47%34%
% of moms still exclusively breastfeeding at 3 mo93%96%
% of moms still exclusively breastfeeding at 6 mo86%67%
% of study babies eating cereal at 6 mo51%84%
% of study babies eating vegetables at 6 mo47%35%
% of study babies eating fruit at 6 mo47%49%
Average baby body fat % at 1 mo16.8%17.0%
Average baby body fat % at 3 mo23.8%23.0%
Average baby body fat % at 6 mo34.3%33.9%
Average maternal added sugar intake (grams/day)4546
Average maternal protein intake (grams/day)7367
% of moms meeting physical activity recommendations at 3 mo67%23%



Carbohydrate composition in breast milk and its effect on infant health (April 2020)

New charts for the assessment of body composition, according to air-displacement plethysmography, at birth and accross the first 6 mo of life (May 2019)

Relationship of Maternal Weight Status Before, During, and After Pregnancy with Breast Milk Hormone Concentrations (April 2019)

Maternal obesity and the human milk metabolome: associations with infant body composition and postnatal weight gain (April 2019)

Higher Maternal Diet Quality during Pregnancy and Lactation Is Associated with Lower Infant Weight-For-Length, Body Fat Percent, and Fat Mass in Early Postnatal Life (March 2019)

Associations of Maternal Weight Status Before, During, and After Pregnancy with Inflammatory Markers in Breast Milk (orig: December 2017; published correction in October 2018)

Associations between human breast milk hormones and adipocytokines and infant growth and body composition in the first six-months of life (August 2017)




Sugar Intake & Infant Growth

Title: Maternal Added Sugar Intake is Positively Associated with Infant Adiposity and Weight Status at 6 Months (Abstract)

Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods during processing (as opposed to those that naturally occur in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products). While general guidelines for added sugars exist, specific recommendations for added sugar consumption during pregnancy and lactation are lacking. This research examined associations between added sugar intake during pregnancy and lactation and infant growth. In exclusively breastfed infants, the amount of added sugar reported as part of a diet was positively associated with infant weight-for-length z-scores and percent body fat at 6 months.

Gestational Weight Gain & Infant Growth

Title: Maternal Gestational Weight Gain and Infant Nutritional Status at Birth and 6 Months (Abstract)

Excessive gestational weight gain (GWG) is associated with increased infant size at birth. It is unclear how long these effects persist or if they do so in exclusively breastfed infants. In this study of exclusively breastfed infants, infants of mothers with excessive GWG had higher weight and length z-scores at birth, however by six months only the greater infant length association remained. Further studies are needed on the potential for exclusive breastfeeding to modify the effects of excessive GWG.

Milk Production & Maternal Pre-Pregnancy BMI

Title: Breastmilk output is negatively related to maternal pre-pregnancy BMI and pregnancy glycemia in nondiabetic, exclusively breastfeeding women (Abstract)

We know that women with higher body mass index tend to have more difficulty starting and continuing breastfeeding. One reason cited for this issue is lower production of breastmilk in this population. This study connected pre-pregnancy weight status and blood sugar levels (glucose) to the way women’s bodies produce milk after giving birth. At 1 month after giving birth, non-diabetic, exclusively breastfeeding women who had a higher weight status before pregnancy produced less breastmilk. At 3 months after giving birth, non-diabetic, exclusively breastfeeding women whose cells processed glucose less effectively during pregnancy produced less breastmilk. 

Milk Composition & Maternal Pre-Pregnancy BMI

Title: Altered breastmilk hormone concentrations in non-diabetic, obese, exclusively breastfeeding women (Abstract)

This study looked at the relationship between pre-pregnancy weight status in non-diabetic women and breastmilk composition. At 1 and 3 months after giving birth, heavier women had higher levels of insulin and lower levels of adiponectin in their breastmilk. Insulin is a hormone that helps our bodies effectively use sugar (glucose), and it’s important to keep these levels from becoming too high. Adiponectin is a protein that protects against inflammation in the body and is associated with the way we metabolize energy from nutrients. The next step in this research is to look at whether these levels are associated with infant growth and development.

Duration of Exclusive Breastfeeding & Postpartum Weight Loss

Title: How much does exclusive breastfeeding to the recommended 6 months reduce maternal postpartum weight retention in healthy women? (Abstract)

Breastfeeding is commonly believed to help women shed weight gained during pregnancy.  This research studied the extent to which a longer duration of exclusive breastfeeding was related to greater weight loss during the postpartum period. Women who exclusively breastfed their infants for 3 and 6 months lost more weight by 6 months postpartum than those who exclusively breastfed to 1 month only. Weight loss by 6 months postpartum was greater among women who breastfed to 6 months compared to those who breastfed to 3 months.

Diet Quality during Pregnancy & Infant Growth

Title: Maternal Diet Quality during Pregnancy and Infant Growth in Early Postnatal Life (Abstract)

It is widely understood that nutrition during pregnancy plays an important role in determining health and well-being of children. This study looked at the relationship between quality of women’s diet during the third trimester of pregnancy and their infant’s weight relative to other infants of the same length (weight-for-length) and length relative to other infants of the same age (length-for-age) during the first six months of life. Women who ate a higher quality diet, as characterized by higher intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protein foods, low-fat and fat-free dairy products, and lower intake of refined grains, sodium, saturated fats and added sugars, had infants with lower weight-for-length and higher length-for-age from birth to 6 months of age. 

Diet Quality during Lactation & Inflammatory Markers in Breast Milk

Title: Higher Maternal Diet Quality during Lactation is Associated with Lower Inflammatory Markers in Breast Milk (Abstract)

This study aimed to examine the role of women’s diet quality during lacatation in determining concentrations of inflammatory markers in breast milk. Women who ate higher amounts of whole grains and greens and beans had lower concentrations of inflammatory markers in breast milk at 1 month postpartum. Women who ate higher amounts of fat-free/low-fat dairy products and lower amounts of added sugars likewise had lower concentrations of inflammatory markers in breast milk from 1 to 3 months postpartum.

Milk Glucose & Exclusive Breastfeeding

Title: Decreased human milk glucose at 1 month predicts cessation of exclusive breastfeeding by 3 months (Abstract)

Title: Human milk glucose and IL-6 prospectively associated with duration of exclusive breastfeeding: Findings from the MILK Study (Abstract)

Few studies have examined whether breastmilk content could be predictive of the duration of exclusive breastfeeding, once it has been established. In breastmilk samples acquired at 1 month postpartum from exclusively breastfeeding mothers, decreased milk glucose levels were associated with a shift to not exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months. These findings may have implications for early identification of compromised lactation, allowing for proactive clinical support.

Features & Reports

Happy birthday!

Happy BirthdayOur MILK Study babies began turning 5 this November! Happy birthday to our wonderful participants!

Contact us

  • 612-361-7363

MILK in the news!

TV By Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon [LGPL, via Wikimedia Commons] - Background color changed from black to white by uploader.Check out our feature! WCCO filmed a visit with one of our moms who is back for the study with her second baby.

Infant feeding info

For more information on breastfeeding and infant nutrition practices, visit our feeding resources page!

Further study participation

Many of you have inquired as to how you and your children can participate in other research studies here at the University of Minnesota. The Institute of Child Development (ICD) conducts many studies with children of various ages.

Enroll in the ICD participant pool