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PLAYING: Human Milk Oligosaccharides & Infant Immune Health

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Human Milk Oligosaccharides & Infant Immune Health

Explore the role of Human Milk Oligosaccharides in supporting infant immunity and promoting a healthy gut. Dive into the science on Nestlé Baby & me.

3 mins to read Dec 20, 2023

Infant nutrition and the role of breast milk

When it comes to feeding your baby, nothing beats breast milk.  Breast milk provides your baby with so many important nutrients and other special components in a combination that no other food provides. 

Benefits of breastmilk

One of those unique components is Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs).  HMOs in breast milk play a vital role in the immune system development of babies. They nourish beneficial gut bacteria, and support a healthy digestive system to help protect against harmful gut bacteria. By supporting a healthy digestive tract, HMOs in breast milk contribute to the overall health and well-being of infants.


Understanding Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs)

Human Milk Oligosaccharides are unique complex carbohydrates known as natural prebiotics in breast milk. HMOs make up a significant part of human milk, being the third largest solid component after lactose and fat.

Human milk composition

Over 200 HMOs have been identified so far, with a wide diversity in breastfeeding mums.  The most abundant HMO is 2 Fucosyllactose (2’-FL) with approximately 80% of women worldwide producing 2 Fucosyllactose in their breast milk. 

These HMO “prebiotics” are not to be confused with ‘probiotics’ which are beneficial bacteria that can be found in some foods and supplements – read more about ‘probiotics’ here.


HMOs and Infant Gut Health

HMOs support infant gut health by providing food for your baby’s beneficial gut bacteria, making them a natural ‘baby prebiotic’. 

There are many different types of beneficial gut bacteria, with Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus being the more common types. Breastfed babies gut bacteria is made up mostly of Bifidobacteria and Human Milk Oligosaccharides have a big role to play in that, as they are an excellent source of food for these friendly bacteria.

Supporting a healthy digestive system by feeding the good bacteria, where approximately 80% of our immune cells live, is a way HMOs support the baby immune system. 


HMOs and the Newborn Immune System

From the moment your little one is born, early exposure to different things triggers the newborn immune system to start defending for itself. In Australia, most babies start on breast milk as the sole source of food, which is fantastic as breast milk not only nourishes your baby, it also contains immune cells, growth factors and special bioactive components such as HMOs that all support a newborn immune system.

The first years of life is a critical period for immune system development and nurturing early defence mechanisms is key. HMOs in breast milk have been shown to support the developing immune system in a few ways:

HMOs & Immune Health