How HMOs Can Support Infant Cognition

How HMOs Can Support Infant Cognition

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New research suggests special prebiotics found in breast milk may be beneficial for your baby's brain development.

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MAR. 26, 2021   4 MIN. READ

Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are unique prebiotics found naturally in breast milk that feed the good bacteria in the gut where approximately 70% of the immune system exists.  While there are hundreds of different HMOs available in breast milk, the most abundant and well-researched among them is 2'-Fucosyllactose (2'-FL).

New findings from Abbott published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Science suggests that HMOs may help support cognition and motor development in infants. The study found that 2'-FL and 6-sialyllactose (6'-SL) HMOs together may be helpful in brain development. 

For the study, researchers collected a total of 82 human milk samples from women at one month postpartum to determine the impact of mothers’ weight and medical risk factors on breast milk composition. The women were asked to record weight and other variables, including gestational diabetes and smoking habits.

The results of the research showed that higher levels of 6'-SL HMO in breast milk was linked to higher cognitive and motor skills scores in breastfed infants at 18 months, regardless of the mothers’ weight, diabetic status or other variables. And, greater levels of both 2'-FL and 6'-SL HMOs together were associated with higher motor skills scores at 6 and 18 months of age.

Gross and fine motor skills are essential aspects of a child’s overall development. They allow a child to explore his or her environment, play with objects, demonstrate affection by reaching and holding, and demonstrate independence through mobility.

This research suggests HMOs may also be important in supporting brain development in babies

Breastfed babies receive many protective immune components, including HMOs, that help build their immune system and now this critical research suggests they play a role in brain development. While breastfeeding remains the best option for babies, further studying the profound impact HMOs have can help us narrow the gap between formula and breast milk.

Rachael Buck, Ph.D., Pediatric Nutrition Senior Research Fellow at Abbott

After fat and lactose (a carbohydrate), HMOs are the third most abundant component in breast milk. But these special prebiotics aren’t broken down in a baby's digestive tract. Instead, they're digested by the beneficial bacteria that reside in their gut.

It is estimated that there are more than 150 different HMOs  in breast milk, but the most abundant is 2′-fucosyllactose (2'-FL). Previous research explored the many benefits of 2'-FL, including its ability to support  infant immune health and potentially have the effect of reducing necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition often plaguing premature infants and impacting gut health. 

Breast milk, widely  recognized as the "gold standard" in infant nutrition, is  recommended whenever possible by leading healthcare professionals. But, for situations where breastfeeding may not be possible or breast milk is not available, there is a wealth of research showing the effects of HMOs and Abbott has determined how to bring them to infant formula.  Abbott's team of world-class researchers has pioneered this path and is a leader in the field, introducing the first infant formulas with HMOs to the market in 2016.

“Breastfed babies receive many protective immune components, including HMOs, that help build their immune system and now this critical research suggests they [HMOs] also play a role in brain development. While breastfeeding remains the best option for babies, further studying the profound impact HMOs have can help us narrow the gap between formula and breast milk.” explains Rachael Buck, Ph.D., pediatric nutrition senior research fellow at Abbott.

he Power of Human Milk Oligosaccharides in Infant Nutrition

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The Power of Human Milk Oligosaccharides


Breast milk is the gold standard for babies’ nutrition — with a perfect blend of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and other components that support a baby's immune system. Within this nutritional powerhouse, there are unique prebiotics called human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). Based on over two decades of research, experts believe HMOs could be one of the factors behind breast milk's immune system-supporting properties.

Until 2016, HMOs were only found in human breast milk and not available to exclusively formula-fed babies. Now, thanks to cutting-edge research, those who choose to use formula can opt to feed their babies formula that has a blend of five different HMOs.  

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hy Every Woman Needs Folic Acid

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Eating well and taking folic acid is important mom-to-be advice. Folic acid is important for a woman's wellness at any stage of life, but a woman of child-bearing age should know it plays a vital role in preventing neural tube defects in the fetus when taken prior to conception and during pregnancy.

By incorporating folic acid into your diet, your body can produce and maintain new cells. But what is folic acid? And how can you work it into your diet?

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