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Breastmilk Oligosaccharides and Their Effects on Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Written by Crystal Karges, DTR, CLEC

Just when the benefits of breastfeeding couldn’t seem to get any better, new research is revealing even more reasons for mothers to breastfeed.  Increased knowledge and understanding about the various properties and components of human breast milk, and the interaction with the newborn gut, make for profound evidence for its unsurpassed advantages.

A newly published study by Dr. Lars Bode, assistant professor in neonatal medicine and pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, has evaluated the effects of how a particular human milk oligosaccharide (HMO) can considerably decrease the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis.

One of the most recurrent and deadly intestinal disorders in premature infants is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), and it has been demonstrated that an estimated five percent of all premature infants born with a low birth weight acquire NEC.  While the mechanism behind NEC is not widely understood, the devastating effects are undeniably seen, with statics disclosing the fatality of this condition and the rigorous complications for survivors.

Amidst the difficulties associated with this complex condition, there are promising discoveries being made about the properties of breast milk that have been shown to counteract the outcomes correlated with NEC.  In his latest research findings, Dr. Bode and his colleagues discovered that out of the estimated 150 oligosaccharides unique to human milk alone, one oligosaccharide in particular (Disialyllacto-N-tetraose) is accountable for the advantageous effects of decreasing the risk of NEC in neonatal rats.  In contrast, infant formulas, which are supplemented with galactooligosaccharides (GOS), have a negligible influence on NEC in neonatal rats.

These findings not only elaborate on the numerous advantageous of human milk, but also illustrate how it functions in providing health benefits outside of nutrition and sustenance for the infant.  Sharing research such as this with clients and patients will continue to encourage and empower new mothers to breastfeed their infants.

For more information about Dr. Bode’s lab site, continue reading here.

About SPIN at UC San Diego

Premature infants who receive human breast milk have the best outcomes – medically, nutritionally, and developmentally. Within the Neonatology Division at UCSD’s Department of Pediatrics, the Supporting Premature Infant Nutrition (SPIN) program was developed to address the challenges of helping mothers produce sufficient breast milk for their premature infants, and to improve the manner in which neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) support optimal nutrition and growth in their most vulnerable population of patients.


Crystal Karges, DTR, CLEC


  1. Baby Poop What Your Pediatrician May Not Tell You - Breastfeeding Support - 26 June 2015

    […] Necrotising enterocolitis is a dangerous condition mainly found in premature babies. […]

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