Why are Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) important?

Why are Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) important?

What are HMOs?

HMO stands for HUMAN MILK OLIGOSACCHARIDES, which act as a unique type of prebiotic found naturally in breastmilk. In fact, they are the third largest solid component of human milk after lactose and fat. HMOs feed only beneficial bacteria in the gut of infants and children(1). Through scientific innovation, structurally identical HMOs to that found in breastmilk can now be created.

What are HMOs?

Why are HMOs important for little ones?

We know that good nutrition is the foundation for your child’s development. For babies, the best nutrition is breastmilk as it provides the optimal balance of nutrition. Studies suggest that breastfed babies often have stronger immune systems which is due to the presence of HMOs.(1)

70% of the immune system exists in the gut. HMOs are prebiotics. They feed and promote good bacteria in the gut, keeping your little ones digestive system healthy whilst also strengthening the gut barrier function. This helps to maintain and support their immune health.(2)

What are 2’-FL HMOs?

2′-FL HMO, or 2′-fucosyllactose human milk oligosaccharide; is a prebiotic found naturally in breastmilk. About 80 percent of mothers make 2′-FL in their breastmilk.(3) There are 150 different HMOs and 2’FL is the most prominent in breastmilk.(4)

Probiotics and HMOs

Bifidobacteria dominate the gut of a breastfed infant(5)

HMOs in breastmilk such as 2’FL act as a prebiotic or food source for Bifidobacteria enabling them to proliferate/dominate the gut(6)

The unique structure of a specific type of Bifidobacterium, B. infantis facilitates its ability to efficiently consume HMOs as an energy source and thereby further proliferate in the gut faster than any other type of Bifidobacterium(7)

In metabolizing HMOs, B. infantis produces short chain fatty acids which help to support beneficial gut bacteria, and decrease pathogenic bacteria(7)

Some prebiotics support the growth of all types of bacteria while HMO has a unique ability to only support the growth of beneficial bacteria(8)


(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.
(3)Lewis, Z. T. et al. Microbiome 3, 13 (2015).
(4)Castanys-Muñoz et al. Nutrition Reviews® Vol. 71(12):773–789
(5)Yatsunenko T, Rey FE, Manary MJ, et al. Human gut microbiome viewed across age and geography. Nature. 2012;486(7402):222-227. Published 2012 May 9. doi:10.1038/nature11053
(6)Underwood, M., German, J., Lebrilla, C. et al. Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis: champion colonizer of the infant gut. Pediatr Res 77, 229–235 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/pr.2014.156
(7)Hegar B, Wibowo Y, Basrowi RW, Ranuh RG, Sudarmo SM, Munasir Z, et al. . The role of two human milk oligosaccharides, 2′-Fucosyllactose and Lacto-N-Neotetraose, in infant nutrition. Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. (2019) 22:330–340. 10.5223/pghn.2019.22.4.330
(8)Salli K, Anglenius H, Hirvonen J, Hibberd AA, Ahonen I, Saarinen M, Tiihonen K, Maukonen J and Ouwehand A. The effect of 2’-fucosyllactose on simulated infant gut microbiome and metabolites; a pilot study in comparison to GOS and lactose. Scientific Reports.(2019) 9:13232. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-49497-z