A new study has revealed that an inability to breastfeed may in fact be the result of a mutated gene.

Image Source: Getty Images

According to The Daily Mail, the study which was published in the Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia, found that mothers who carry the mutation affecting the ZnT2 protein were also found to have lower levels of zinc – an essential mineral – in their system.  

The study’s authors, Penn State University team, discovered that, Zinc is vital for the development and function of mammary glands and its’ levels in breast milk is an indicator of breast function during lactation.  The team hopes their discovery will help doctors more quickly recognize mothers who have trouble breastfeeding.

The protein ZnT2 transports zinc in certain tissues of the body – including the mammary glands.  Women who have mutations in the gene that encodes ZnT2 were therefore found to have ‘substantially lower’ levels of zinc in their milk.

An article in the Daily Mail, stated that the scientists in this study also discovered that genetic variation resulting in either loss or gain of function may be common in women – and sometimes associated with indicators of poor breast function.  

If women with the mutation are able to breastfeed successfully, their milk will contain lower levels of zinc.  This would lead to to severe zinc deficiency in infants, which puts babies at a higher risk of immunological and developmental issues.

Dr Shannon Keller, associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology and pharmacology at Penn State, said that the results of the study surprised her: “We had no idea that genetic variation in ZnT2 would be so common.”

Scientists caution according to the Daily Mail that additional research must be completed to better understand why and how genetic variation affects milk zinc levels and breast function.

However, they said these findings are “an important step in identifying breastfed infants who are at risk for zinc deficiency.”


Image Source: Getty Images


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  • Very interesting.


  • My sister-in-law is the only person I know who couldn’t breastfeed due to not producing milk. All others I know who couldn’t (including myself as a baby; I wouldn’t suck apparently) are for other reasons.


  • my son was two weeks prem and wouldn’t suck, my boobs were enormous and I loathed trying to feed him – it was horrid to me… The nurses dried me out with stinky cabbage leaves and a lot of pain, and Nick went from strength to strength on formula x

    • A very painful and unpleasant experience for you. :(


  • An interesting article to read and one to look into.


  • Interesting read…….I had to give up with my first but feed sucessfully with my other two.


  • Lke ke


  • Very interesting. Would be great if they could test for it. Then mums could be prepared


  • Yes I agree, it would be good if there were a test available.


  • Would be interesting to see if women can be screened for this mutation sometime in the future. It also makes me wonder if this mutation increases the risk of breast cancer???


  • wow yeah that must be so frustrating. hopefully they will fix this so mums can breastfeed. it is such a great bonding experience.

    • Yes I was quite lucky that I was able to breast feed all my children


  • This is a very interesting article. I know many women who could not breastfeed and were made to feel guilty about it. Hopefully this type of information and research will make them feel a bit better knowing that they’re not being lazy and giving up but that they just can’t breastfeed.


  • Wow – that is very interesting! Hopefully it will take away some of current pressures and prejudices.


  • That’s very interesting to know! I know some women that problems breastfeeding. I wonder if they’ve got that genetic mutation or not.


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