Abstract The study of relationships between mathematical properties of functions used to model lactation curves is usually limited to the evaluation of the goodness of fit. Problems related to the existence of different lactation curve shapes are usually neglected or solved drastically by considering shapes markedly different from the standard as biologically atypical. A deeper investigation could yield useful indications for developing technical tools aimed at modifying the lactation curve in a desirable fashion. Relationships between mathematical properties and lactation curve shapes were analyzed by fitting several common functions (Wood incomplete gamma, Wilmink's exponential, Ali and Schaeffer's polynomial regression, and fifth-order Legendre polynomials) to 229,518 test-day records belonging to 27,837 lactations of Italian Simmental cows. Among the best fits (adjusted r2 higher than 0.75), the 3-parameter models (Wood and Wilmink) were able to detect 2 main groups of curve shape: standard and atypical. Five-parameter models (Ali and Schaeffer function and the Legendre polynomials) were able to recognize a larger number of curve shapes. The higher flexibility of 5-parameter models was accompanied by increased sensitivity to local random variation as evidenced by the bias in estimated test-day yields at the beginning and end of lactation (border effect). Meaning of parameters, range of their values and of their (co) variances are clearly different among groups of curves. Our results suggest that analysis based on comparisons between parameter values and (co)variances should be done carefully. Comparisons among parameter values and (co)variances could yield more robust, reliable, and easy to interpret results if performed within groups based on curve shape.