Prebiotics in human milk: a review

Dig Liver Dis. 2006 Dec;38 Suppl 2:S291-4. doi: 10.1016/S1590-8658(07)60013-9.


The microbic colonization of human intestine begins at birth, when from a sterile state the newborn is exposed to an external environment rich in various bacterial species. The kind of delivery has an important influence on the composition of the intestinal flora in the first days of life. Thereafter, the microflora is mainly influenced by the kind of feeding: breast-fed infants show a predominance of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, whereas bottle-fed infants develop a mixed flora with a lower number of bifidobacteria. The "bifidogenic effect" of human milk is not related to a single growth-promoting substance, but rather to a complex of interacting factors. In particular the prebiotic effect has been ascribed to the low concentration of proteins and phosphates, the presence of lactoferrin, lactose, nucleotides and oligosaccharides. The real prebiotic role of each of these substances is not yet clearly defined, with the exception of oligosaccharides which undoubtedly promote a bifidobacteria-dominant microflora.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bifidobacterium / growth & development
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Lactobacillus / growth & development
  • Lactoferrin / analysis
  • Lactose / analysis
  • Milk Proteins / analysis
  • Milk, Human / chemistry*
  • Nucleotides / analysis
  • Oligosaccharides / analysis
  • Phosphates / analysis


  • Milk Proteins
  • Nucleotides
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Phosphates
  • Lactoferrin
  • Lactose