Originally published by 2 Minute Medicine® (view original article). Reused on AccessPediatrics with permission.

Human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) are complex glycans, and are typically non-digestible by humans. They are, however, important substrates for an infant’s gut microbiota, and play an important role in the maturation of the intestinal mucosal immune system. It is thought that a number of factors can influence the composition of HMOs, including but not limited to maternal Secretor and Lewis blood groups. In addition, HMO abundance changes throughout lactation, though there is little data available on factors associated with HMO abundance. In this study, researchers used stored frozen colostrum samples from a previously published large, randomized controlled trial of probiotic supplementation in pregnant mothers from Helsinki, Finland, carrying fetuses at hereditary risk for allergy, to assess the association between maternal probiotic supplementation and HMO concentrations. With over 500 available mature milk samples available, 81 colostrum samples were randomly selected, with 30 samples from the placebo group and 51 from the probiotic group. Researchers found that the concentrations of 3-fucosyllactose and 3’-sialyllactose were in higher concentrations in colostrum from mothers in the probiotic supplementation group when compared to the non-supplemented group. However, mean levels of HMOs were lower in colostrum from mothers who received probiotic supplementation when compared to the control group. This study therefore shows that while HMO composition is largely genetically determined, maternal probiotic supplementation may alter HMO composition in human milk; this has important implications for disease modification in at-risk infants who are breastfed.

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