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Benefits of human milk oligosaccharides: promoting a healthy immune system

By Chloe Autran, PhD

It is believed that one of the benefits of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) for infants is the development of the newborn immune system in the gut and beyond. Although scientists are still working to better understand the reason behind the benefit to the immune system, several lab studies show that HMOs can interact with different immune cells to help manage inflammation.1,2

In addition, the ”good” bacteria that feed on different HMOs help shape the baby’s immature immune system by teaching it to learn the difference between friend and foe. The exposure to HMOs in human milk can provide the baby with a balanced environment within the intestine and a strong immune system.

The benefits of HMOs are in fact so important that scientists believe that babies are already exposed to HMOs before birth. Studies have detected HMOs in the mother’s urine and blood during the first trimester, as well as seeing evidence of HMOs in amniotic fluid.3,4

So, it is not surprising that when a large variety of mother-made HMOs are present, as they are in breastmilk, HMOs can help pave the way toward a strong lifelong immunity for many diseases.


  1. Triantis V, Bode L, van Neerven RJ. Immunological effects of human milk oligosaccharides. Front Pediatr. 2018 Jul 2;6:190. doi: 10.3389/fped.2018.00190
  2. Donovan SM & Comstock SS. Human milk oligosaccharides influence neonatal mucosal and systemic immunity. Ann Nutr Metab 2016; 69(suppl 2):41-51. doi: 10.1159/000452818
  3. Jantscher-Krenn E, et al. Evidence of human milk oligosaccharides in maternal circulation already during pregnancy – a pilot study. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2018; doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00320.2018.
  4. Wise A, et al. Infants are exposed to human milk oligosaccharides already in utero. Front Pediatr. 2018; 6:270. doi: 10.3389/fped.2018.00270