When it comes to supporting your kid’s health, we as dietitians often talk about essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. However, there’s an additional nutrient that’s often less talked about that’s equally important when it comes to the health and vitality of infants and kids - human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). HMO’s are the third most abundant component of human breast milk, which is often considered the gold standard for infant nutrition. Let’s review the role of human milk oligosaccharides in kids and how parents can get the benefits of HMO’s for their kid’s health.
What Are Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs)?
Human milk oligosaccharides, or HMOs, are a type of complex carbohydrate found in human breast milk. They are not digested, but instead serve as a prebiotic, which is nourishment for the beneficial gut bacteria in the microbiome. Prebiotics promote the growth of a healthy gut in infants and kids.
How HMOs Benefit Kids' Digestion and Gut Health
Promotes a Diverse Gut Microbiome:
HMOs promote the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium while inhibiting the growth of harmful pathogens. A diverse gut microbiome is associated with better digestion and a strengthened immune system .
Reducing Inflammation in the Gut:
HMOs help maintain a balanced gut environment by producing short chain fatty acids after fermenting in the gut, producing anti-inflammatory effects in the digestive tract. This can be particularly beneficial for kids with digestive sensitivities or conditions like irritable bowel syndrome because chronic inflammation has been associated to perpetuate the symptoms of IBS. [1, 2].
Strengthening Immune Function:
80% of our immune cells live in the gut microbiome . HMOs directly influence immune cells in the gut by changing the composition of the gut microbiota . This can help build and strengthen the overall immune system of your little ones.
Supports Early Microbiome Development in Infants
The early-life microbiome development has a strong impact on both short-term and long-term health . Current literature supports that infant consumption of HMO’s through supplementation can help mimic the benefits to those of breastfed infants to support healthy growth and development.
Where Can Infants and Kids Get Human Milk Oligosaccharides?
Breast Milk: The richest and most direct source of HMOs is human breast milk. Mothers naturally produce HMOs to nourish their infants.
HMO Supplements: HMO supplements are available mostly in powder forms. These supplements are designed to provide the benefits of HMO to kids beyond the breastfeeding age. When looking for supplements, it’s best to choose ones that are third-party tested to ensure that you kiddos get a high-quality and safe product. If your kids experience persistent digestive issues, please consult a pediatrician for guidance and support before starting any new supplements.
Can Kids Safely Consume Human Milk Oligosaccharides?
The literature on human milk oligosaccharides have consistently found that HMO supplementation was safe and well tolerated in both infants and kids. The infant studies reported an overall positive shift in outcomes towards those observed in breastfed infants, including stool characteristics, gut microbiome composition, and intestinal immune markers .
 Dinleyici, M., Barbieur, J., Dinleyici, E. Ç., & Vandenplas, Y. (2023). Functional effects of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). Gut Microbes, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/19490976.2023.2186115
 Ng QX, Soh AYS, Loke W, Lim DY, Yeo WS. The role of inflammation in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). J Inflamm Res. 2018 Sep 21;11:345-349. doi: 10.2147/JIR.S174982. PMID: 30288077; PMCID: PMC6159811.
 Hill DR, Chow JM, Buck RH. Multifunctional Benefits of Prevalent HMOs: Implications for Infant Health. Nutrients. 2021 Sep 25;13(10):3364. doi: 10.3390/nu13103364. PMID: 34684364; PMCID: PMC8539508.
 Wiertsema SP, van Bergenhenegouwen J, Garssen J, Knippels LMJ. The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 9;13(3):886. doi: 10.3390/nu13030886. PMID: 33803407; PMCID: PMC8001875.
 Cheng, Y., & Yeung, C. (2021b). Recent advance in infant nutrition: Human milk oligosaccharides. Pediatrics and Neonatology, 62(4), 347–353. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedneo.2020.12.013
 Schönknecht YB, Moreno Tovar MV, Jensen SR, Parschat K. Clinical Studies on the Supplementation of Manufactured Human Milk Oligosaccharides: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2023 Aug 17;15(16):3622. doi: 10.3390/nu15163622. PMID: 37630811; PMCID: PMC10458772.
May is the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and nutrition expert at Begin Health.
© 2023 Begin Health, Inc. All Rights Reserved.