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Human Milk Oligosaccharide 101: Everything You Need to Know About HMOs


As a parent, one of your main goals is to care for and look after your child. And when we look at something like breastmilk, it is interesting to see how we can be supporting our children in ways we may not even be aware of. 

As we know, breastmilk is the best nutrition for babies - but it also has added benefits due to elements like HMOs. HMO stands for Human Milk Oligosaccharides, and in this article, we explain what they are, their benefits and the role they play in developing a strong immune system in infants. 

 

What are HMOs?

 

Put simply, HMOs are a unique type of prebiotic found naturally in breastmilk - they are the third-largest solid component of breastmilk after fat and lactose. 

HMOs have been found to feed good bacteria in the gut of babies and when you consider that 70% of the immune system exists in the gut, you can begin to see why HMOs are so important.  

Since HMOs are prebiotics, they help promote good bacteria, which in turn supports the digestion and gut barrier in infants, which leads to a stronger immune system. Whilst HMOs have plenty of benefits, they aren’t digested, and therefore don’t have any nutritional value. Rather, they are a source of protection by supporting the immune system to defend against viral and bacterial pathogens.

Interestingly - HMOs differ from mother to mother, based on their genetics as well as their stage in lactation, with more than 150 different types of HMOs being identified. Plus HMOs are present in a concentration 10-100x higher in humans than in other animal milk.

 

What if I don’t breastfeed? 

 

For babies, we know that the best nutrition is breastmilk as it provides the optimal balance of nutrition and comes with added benefits like HMOs! - but we also know for some of us it is impossible or impractical. So that’s why the scientific development of HMOs that are structurally identical to the HMOs found in breastmilk is so significant. The more that scientists uncover about breastmilk and what makes it so amazing, the more advanced these products that help support parents in their feeding journey will become.

 

Immune systems and HMOs 

 

In the third trimester, antibodies are actually passed from the mother to her baby through the placenta. This gives babies some level of protection when they are first born, but their immune system is still immature. 

After birth, antibodies are also passed to the baby through colostrum found in breastmilk. And as they now are out of the safety of the womb and into the real world - their immune system will continue to develop as they come into contact with germs. 

As their immune system is still developing, on average, babies, toddlers and preschoolers get about 12 viral infections a year. From primary school to the beginning of high school, they will also get more illnesses a year than the average adult, but it will lessen as they get older

 

The role HMOs play

 

HMOs have been shown to help the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which in turn, supports the development of a strong and healthy immune system in infants. Furthermore, the growth of this good bacteria helps prevent viral and bacterial pathogens from establishing in the gut and causing infection. Due to this, early studies have shown that HMOs have health-promoting properties in early life

At the end of the day, we just want to do anything we can to help our children to be healthy and thrive. It is amazing to think about all the things working hard behind the scenes to support our babies, like HMOs, without most of us even knowing! 

 

This is a paid partnership between Kiindred x Biostime Supplements.

 

(1)Bode L. Nutrition Reviews 2009. Vol. 67(Suppl. 2):S183–S191 

(2)Furness, J. B., Kunze, W. A., & Clerc, N. (1999). II. The intestine as a sensory organ: neural, endocrine, and immune responses. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, 277(5), G922-G928.