Study of breast milk HMOs may facilitate development of new infant formula

By Nicola Gordon-Seymour

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Nataliaderiabina
Getty | Nataliaderiabina

Related tags maternal nutrition infant health Breastfeeding HMOs

Research into the postpartum variations in human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) adds weight to the argument that extended breastfeeding is beneficial to infant development and may facilitate the development of new infant formula fortified with HMOs.

Results from a Chinese study on nutrient levels in breastmilk offer compelling evidence for extended breastfeeding up to 400 days postpartum to support early infant development.

Analysis of the breast milk from 335 Chinese women over a prolonged period identified progressive variations in human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) and notably an increase in specific HMOs in late lactation deemed crucial in early development.

HMOs, such as 2’ -fucosyllactose​ (2’-FL​), are the most abundant components of breast milk, after lactose and lipids. They help support infant immune development, as well as regulate gut health, inhibit pathogens, and reduce inflammation.

“Investigating HMO levels over a prolonged breastfeeding period contributes to a better understanding of HMO-associated health benefits. The results of this study support the WHO’s recommendation to continue breastfeeding after the first six month,” ​the authors write.

They speculate that the data may also 

The study

The study formed part of the Maternal Nutrition and Infant Investigation​ (MUAI) into the composition and functionality of breast milk nutrients; factors affecting nutrient levels in breast milk, and the relationship between nutrients and infant health.

It focused on six of the most prevalent oligosaccharides 2’ -fucosyllactose​ (2’ -FL​), 3-fucosyllactose​ (3-FL​), lacto-N-tetraose​ (LNT​), lacto-N-neotetraose​ (LNnT​), 3’ -sialyllactose​ (3’ -SL​) and 6’ -sialyllactose​ (6’ -SL​)) and used 2’-FL​ levels to separate breast milk samples into high and low 2’-FL​ level groups.

Participants were recruited at Clifford Hospital, Guangdong Province. The women were aged 20-35 years, had lived in the area for more than two years and had planned to breastfeed for more than three months. Subjects with health conditions were excluded.

Breast-milk samples were collected at five time points: 0-5 days, 10-15 days, 40-45 days, 200-240 days, and 300-400 days postpartum. Maternal and infant information was also collected, and dietary questionnaires completed.


Researchers noted that concentrations of predominant HMOs changed from 40 to 45 days postpartum to 200 to 240 days postpartum, although they could not determine the specific time of this change because of the considerable time interval from 45 days to 200 days.

They observed a progressive decline in 2’-FL​ levels from 0 to 400 days while 3-FL​ levels increased from 0 to 240 days, stabilized for a period and then increased again to eventually exceed 2’ -FL​ levels in late lactation. In contrast, LNT ​and 6’-SL​ increased from colostrum to transitional milk and decreased significantly in mature milk.

“Among the six HMOs, the 2’ -FL level was the highest among all the HMOs at 0–45 days postpartum, and subsequently, the level of 3-FL became the highest of all the HMOs at 200–400 days postpartum. The total HMO level decreased throughout the lactational stages but remained at 59% of the total level observed at 0–5 days postpartum.”


Results substantiate the nutritional benefits of breastfeeding for one year postpartum and in particular the crucial role of 2’-FL​ and 6’-FL​ for infants in early life, the authors write. In addition, changes in the predominant HMOs in breast milk may indicate that HMO requirements differ as infants grow and that HMOs act synergistically to regulate infants’ nutrition.

“Future studies could be conducted to narrow down the time interval. It was not possible to calculate the infants’ daily intake of HMOs since the 24 h milk volume intake of the infants was not recorded in this study​.”

The authors add that analytical variation, such as the sample preparation, testing method, and social characteristics of the donors, including geographical distribution, may contribute to moderate differences between study results.



Source: Nutrients

Published November 11, 2021:

Six Oligosaccharides’ Variation in Breast Milk: A Study in South China from 0 to 400 Days Postpartum

Authors : Shuang Liu , Xiaokun Cai, Jin Wang, Yingyi Mao, Yan Zou, Fang Tian, Bo Peng, Jiaqiang Hu, Yanrong Zhao and Shuo Wang

Related topics Research Maternal & infant health

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