Does ethnicity predict lactation? A study of four ethnic communities

Donatella De Amici, Antonella Gasparoni, Andrea Guala, Catherine Klersy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human lactation is influenced by a variety of interrelated factors. The purpose of the study was to see whether the racial/ethnic factor is predictive of the onset of lactation and of the volume of breast milk. We planned a prospective study enrolling 269 women who were classified into four ethnic groups: Group 1 Arabs, Group 2 Africans, Group 3 Eastern Europeans, Group 4 Italians. Data regarding the women's habits, medical history and pregnancy were collected. After delivery we recorded the onset of lactogenesis and volume of milk output up until the fifth post-delivery day. A Cox model was fitted in order to assess the independent role that ethnicity has on the time to lactation; a general linear model was used to relate ethnicity to the overall amount of milk produced. Mean age was 27 years and was similar in all groups; half of the women were primiparae. All babies were exclusively breast-fed. Median time to lactation was 36 hours (20-36) and the median daily amount of milk produced was 173.5 ml (119-215). The earliest onset of lactation and the highest milk output was registered among Arab and Eastern European women. On Cox regression analysis ethnicity appeared to be an independent predictor of earlier lactogenesis: breast milk output occurred significantly earlier in the immigrant population than it did in the Italian population. No difference was observed among the immigrants. The multiple regression model showed that ethnicity independently predicts the overall amount of milk production: the Immigrant population produced a significantly higher milk output than the Italian population. No differences were observed within the immigrant groups. Ethnicity has been shown to be associated with the characteristics of breast-feeding. Further research is needed to understand the underlying mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-362
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Breast-feeding
  • Immigrant population
  • Italians
  • Lactogenesis
  • Milk production
  • Prospective study

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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