The composition of breast milk changes in pregnant women on probiotics, a recent study suggests.
The finding, published in the Journal of JAMA Pediatrics, upends what scientists thought of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), the sugar molecules found exclusively in human breast milk. This could lead to future studies on how the compounds can be potentially influenced by diet and other factors.
Though HMOs are indigestible for a newborn child, they are consumed by certain species in the microbiome and can significantly affect its composition. As a result, scientists have begun focusing on HMOs as a possible reason that infants who consume breast milk are less likely to get certain viral and bacterial infections, and other severe conditions such as necrotising enterocolitis, along with allergic diseases like a food allergy.
The study analysed data from 81 pregnant women who were enrolled in a probiotic supplementation study in Finland. The researchers then compared 20 different HMOs in the two groups of women – those taking probiotics and those that were not.
"Because HMOs may be linked to the development of food allergies in an infant, manipulating HMO composition favourably could open up a new avenue for prevention of food allergies," said Kirsi Jarvinen-Seppo, the senior co-author on the paper.