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HMOs and the infant microbiota

02 August 2019
Volume 27 · Issue 8


An error meant that an early, incomplete draft of this article was printed in a previous issue of British Journal of Midwifery. The final version has therefore been published here

Breast milk will always be the ideal food for all babies: the benefits that it offers in encouraging health, growth and development cannot be replicated. But for mothers who are unable to feed their infants the natural product, formula milk is the only suitable alternative. A growing understanding of the composition and function of breast milk is helping to produce infant formula milks that are closer in composition to breast milk, with the aim of improving outcomes for infants who are formula-fed.

It has been known since the 19th century that there is a direct relationship between early diet and health. Breastfed infants had been shown to have lower incidence of infectious diseases and a higher survival rate than those fed formula. Researchers then realised that this could be linked to the effects of diet on the bacterial population, which differed markedly in the bowels of breast- and bottle-fed infants.

Researchers also realised that the benefits of human milk on the immune system could be linked to the differences in the gut bacterial population (microbiota), which differed markedly between breast- and bottle-fed infants. This led to the study of the effects of prebiotics (non-digestible fibres that stimulate the growth of beneficial gut bacteria) and probiotics (solutions of live bacteria or yeasts with similar effects).

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