Lactation is a diagnostic trait of all mammals, involving the synthesis of a nutrient-rich secretion by specialized mammary glands. The many similarities among living mammals in mammary gland development, regulation, and ultrastructure, as well as in secretory mechanisms and types of milk constituents, indicate that lactation has a single evolutionary origin. However, there are diverse lactation patterns among living mammals, involving differences in the duration and intensity of lactation, as well as differences in suckling frequency, milk composition, and milk yield. In this article, aspects of milk secretion and yield that underlie species differences will be discussed, and some of the variation seen among major orders of land mammals will be mentioned.

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