Preterm babies or premature babies are those who are born too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. They have many challenges, such as getting sick easily, having problems with their bowels, and being allergic to some things. One of the things that can help them with these challenges is human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs).
HMOs are special sugars that are found only in human milk. They are very important for the health and growth of babies. In this post, we will talk about how HMOs can help preterm babies fight infections and stay healthy by:
- Making babies gut healthy: HMOs can feed good bacteria in the gut that can make substances that reduce inflammation and help the immune system. They can also stop bad bacteria from growing and sticking to the gut wall.
- Blocking infections from entering the body: HMOs can trick pathogens or bacteria into thinking that they are part of the gut cells. By sticking to these bacteria, HMOs stop them from getting into the body and making the baby sick. Some of the infections that HMOs can block include those that cause diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration.
- Balancing inflammation: HMOs can talk to immune cells and tell them how to act. HMOs can also control the production of cytokines, which are substances that cause inflammation and immunity.
By helping preterm babies fight infections and stay healthy, HMOs can have many benefits, such as:
- Lowering the risk of Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC): NEC is a serious problem that affects the bowels of preterm babies. It causes swelling, damage, and holes in the bowel wall. This can lead to blood infection, organ failure, and death. We don’t know exactly what causes NEC, but some things that may play a role include being born too early, not having enough oxygen or blood flow, and having too many bad bacteria. HMOs can lower the risk of NEC by making the gut healthy, blocking infections from entering the body, and balancing inflammation.
- Making vaccines work better: Vaccines are shots that protect babies from getting sick from certain infections. They work by teaching the immune system how to fight those infections. But sometimes vaccines don’t work very well in preterm babies because their immune system is not mature enough or because their mother’s antibodies get in the way. HMOs can make vaccines work better by boosting both innate and adaptive immunity, increasing antibody production and variety.
- Preventing allergies: Allergies are when the body reacts badly to things that are not harmful, such as food or pollen. They can cause rashes, wheezing, runny nose, or life-threatening reactions. The chances of getting allergies depend on genes and environment, such as exposure to allergens and microbes in early life. HMOs can prevent allergies by making the gut healthy, balancing inflammation, and helping the body accept different foods.
However, not all preterm babies can get human milk or HMOs. Some mothers may not make enough milk or may have trouble with breastfeeding or pumping. Some preterm babies may need special supplements to meet their needs.
Luckily, there are some options for these situations. One of them is a supplement that has 2’-fucosyllactose (2’-FL) and lacto-N-neotetraose (LNnT), which are two of the most common and well-studied HMOs in human milk. This supplement can be added to human milk or formula to give preterm babies some of the benefits of HMOs.
A recent study showed that this HMO supplement was safe and well-tolerated by preterm babies. It also showed that this supplement increased the levels of good bacteria in the stools and lowered the levels of inflammation in the blood. These results suggest that this supplement may have positive effects on the gut health, immune function, and brain development of preterm babies.
Thus, the role of HMOs is becoming very important and relevant in boosting the growth and immunity of preterm babies.