Breastfeeding is good for both baby and mother. It supports optimal growth and development of the baby and has positive health benefits for mom too. Breast milk provides a baby with a complex and diverse matrix of nutritional and bioactive compounds and is tailored to the nutritional needs of the baby. Research has shown its composition varies throughout breastfeeding stages. It can even change over the course of one feeding, adapted to a baby’s health and development status.
Human milk oligosaccharides are the third largest component of breast milk solids after lactose and lipids. Research has shown they have a prebiotic effect by stimulating growth and activity of beneficial gut bacteria, and;
- Can have a direct effect on immune cells
- Can block infections
- Function as building blocks for a baby’s brain
There are more than 200 individual and unique HMOs in breast milk and new ones continue to be identified. The concentration of oligosaccharides in breast milk varies within and among women and is influenced by various factors, including the stage of breastfeeding, the mom’s diet, body mass index, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and genetic predisposition. Research in the field has focused on 20 of these HMOs, mostly the most abundant ones.
Recently galactosyllactoses (GLs), a group of small oligosaccharides was identified. Although GLs appear in low concentrations they are found to contribute to modulation of immune cells in a baby’s gut. The PreventCD study is one of the biggest studies so far as part of which the presence and relative levels of HMOs in a large number of breast milk samples (N=715) were analyzed during the first 4 months after birth.