Human Milk Oligosaccharides and the Preterm Infant: A Journey in Sickness and in Health

Clin Perinatol. 2017 Mar;44(1):193-207. doi: 10.1016/j.clp.2016.11.014. Epub 2016 Dec 27.


Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are a group of approximately 200 different unconjugated sugar structures in human milk proposed to support infant growth and development. Data from several preclinical animal studies and human cohort studies suggest HMOs reduce preterm infant mortality and morbidity by shaping the gut microbiome and protecting against necrotizing enterocolitis, candidiasis, and several other immune-related diseases. Current feeding practices and clinical algorithms do not consider infant HMO intake when assessing dietary adequacy or disease risk. Advancements in HMO analytical methodologies and HMO synthesis facilitate cohort and intervention studies to investigate which particular HMOs are most relevant in supporting preterm infants.

Keywords: Glycans; Human milk oligosaccharides; Immune system; Microbiome; Nutrition; Preterm infant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding
  • Child Development*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant Formula
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Milk, Human / metabolism*
  • Oligosaccharides / metabolism*
  • Oligosaccharides / physiology
  • Prebiotics
  • Protective Factors


  • Oligosaccharides
  • Prebiotics