World Breastfeeding Week 2022

Posted on: 4 August 2022 by Catriona Waitt in August 2022 Posts

Woman breastfeeding her baby in a market
Woman breastfeeding her baby in a market. Photo credit: Tabu Capital (Twitter @TabuCapital)

Professor Catriona Waitt is a Professor of Clinical Pharmacology and Global Health in the Institute of Systems, Molecular and Integrative Biology. Catriona’s current research ‘MILK – Maternal and Infant Lactation pharmacoKinetics’ aims to provide greater evidence to support safer use of medicines in breastfeeding mothers.

The first week of August marks World Breastfeeding Week 2022, an international endeavour to promote and support breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding is key to sustainable development strategies post-pandemic, as it improves nutrition, ensures food security and reduces inequalities between and within countries.

About half of all women worldwide require medication whilst breastfeeding. Women deserve evidence upon which to make informed choices, but when it comes to medication use in breastfeeding, such data are scarce. Historically, breastfeeding women have been excluded from drug research, largely with the intention of protecting the mothers and their infants from harm. However, lack of data resulting from this systematic exclusion itself brings risk. In low-income settings drugs are frequently used ‘off-label’ through necessity and in high-income settings the ‘safest’ recommendation may be to avoid breastfeeding.

My research aims to change this situation and generate data to support safer evidence-based prescription of drug treatments for breastfeeding mothers. It is key that work is centred among the populations where these conditions are prevalent, and therefore I lead MILK from the Infectious Diseases Institute, Makerere University College of Health Sciences (IDI) in Uganda, in partnership with the University of Cape Town and the South African Medical Research Council in South Africa and the University of Liverpool and Liverpool Women’s Hospital.

MILK builds upon my previous Wellcome-funded research on antiretrovirals by studying other priority infections (drug-sensitive and drug-resistant tuberculosis, malaria and maternal infection around the time of delivery) in breastfeeding mothers. We aim to determine the amount of medicine that may transfer through breastmilk to infant and what the effects of this may be. Greater strength in research capacity among breastfeeding mother-infant pairs exists in countries like Uganda where formula feeding is rarely an option as it is not affordable, feasible, acceptable, sustainable or safe. Therefore MILK incorporates south-north partnership to facilitate equitable knowledge transfer.

Work with patient groups and policymaking stakeholders has been vital. My Wellcome Public Engagement enrichment award, ATtaining EQUity of Access TO Research (At The EQUATOR) has ensured that from the outset we have engaged with diverse community groups.

MILK has equity at its heart, and will fill key gaps in the evidence for the millions of women worldwide who require treatment for infectious diseases during breastfeeding. Furthermore, the multidisciplinary team and strong stakeholder partnerships will enable us to define the best ways to study all medication in breastfeeding mother-infant pairs and raise the profile of this previously neglected area.

We plan to issue quarterly newsletters on the project to update on our progress.  The first is available to download here - MILK newsletter June 2022 and you can sign up to register for future issues by emailing