AUTHOR: Dr. Jason Bush
These days, new mothers face the daunting task of trying to research and understand the mountains of health information regarding the choices they make – both for themselves and for their infant. Dietary choices are particularly important, specifically with respect to early infant feeding. Studies show that breast milk is best but what is it about this source of nutrition that makes it so valuable?
Breast milk contains fat, sugars, and nutrients essential for proper early development. It also contains special types of antibodies that help to provide a passive form of immunity in the infant’s digestive tract. But did you know that breast milk also contains prebiotics?
Technically called human milk oligosaccharides (or HMOs), these carbohydrates are synthesized by the mother and become part of the milk, but are resistant to digestion by the infant. Like other prebiotics, they pass through the digestive tract intact until they reach the large intestine. Here, they play a critical role in establishing the infant’s gut microbiome by providing food for the very first helpful bacteria to colonize the gut. These helpful bacteria include different types of Bifidobacteria and the various HMOs in breast milk help to stimulate the Bifidogenic Effect.
Scientists haven’t yet perfected the process of synthesizing artificial HMOs, but parents for whom breast feeding is not an option can take comfort in knowing that most infant formulas contain other prebiotics. Like HMOs, these prebiotics stimulate the growth of helpful Bifidobacteria.
I hope the concept of Prebiotics can be de-mystified by understanding that these helpful and completely natural substances have been hard at work, helping to support your gut microbiome from a very early age. And while HMOs, fermentable fiber, and prebiotic supplements all may come from different sources, they all perform similar functions in helping to feed your microbiome and gain all of the health benefits associated with good digestive health.