Role of Prebiotics

Here’s how you can keep your baby’s gut in top shape for better digestion

We all know that food’s digestion starts in the mouth – chewing and mixing with saliva – being the first step followed by digestion in the tummy. Did you know, bacteria present in the tummy also help in digestion? Ditto for your baby. But what kind of bacteria is present in your baby’s tummy? A good fibre from breast milk can help increase the number of good bacteria.

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Your baby’s gut bacteria

Your baby’s introduction to the gut bacteria seems to happen while he/she is in the womb and more prominently so during delivery. When your baby starts solid foods, yet another new set of bacteria present in the food is introduced.1 But it is very important to understand what kind of bacteria sets up base in your baby’s tummy.

Gut bacteria – a source of vitamins but also ill health

For adults, fibre from food is healthy for many reasons. It reaches our gut as it is and here the bacteria ferment it. As by-product vitamins like K, B12 and many others are produced.

These by-products have many health benefits, including2,3

  1. They promote a good gut with lesser discomfort and upsets.
  2. They help with softer stools and bowel movement.

Antibiotics, the pills that kill all bacteria, has shown to affect health later in life. Early antibiotic use meant obesity in children as old as 12 years. This is because antibiotics kill even the good bacteria in the gut. 2,3

Prebiotic HMO – the food your baby’s gut bacteria needs

Breastfeeding is suggested for babies for the first 6 months for numerous reasons. Yes, it is rich in nutrients but the lesser known one is a special indigestible carbohydrate called Human Milk Oligosaccharides or HMOs. These prebiotic HMOs are the third most abundant component in breast milk.4

Despite there being over 1000 variants of HMOs naturally present, the most common one present in most mother’s milk happens to be 2-Fucosyllactose or 2’-FL (two few-co-syl-lack-tose).5 Once in your baby’s gut, these prebiotic HMOs increase the numbers of good bacteria. This means good health over sickness and infections for your baby.6

Breast milk is the richest source of prebiotic HMO like 2-FL. They are absent in cow milk. Research and technology has enabled prebiotic HMOs to be produced commercially. Prebiotic HMOs produced this way are generally recognised as safe (GRAS) and safe for consumption. While the paediatrician will suggest the best option for babies, mothers are also advised to check the label for highest total quantity of added HMOs and maximum types of prebiotic HMOs present in the alternative.


  1. Dreyer JL, Andrea L. Liebl. Early colonization of the gut microbiome and its relationship with obesity. Human Microbiome Journal; 2018: 10 (1-5).
  2. Zhang YJ, Li S, Gan RY, Zhou T, Xu DP, Li HB. Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2015 Apr 2;16(4):7493-519. doi: 10.3390/ijms16047493. PMID: 25849657; PMCID: PMC4425030.
  3. Valdes AM, Walter J, Segal E, Spector TD. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ. 2018 Jun 13;361:k2179. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k2179. PMID: 29899036; PMCID: PMC6000740.
  4. Hegar B, Wibowo Y, Basrowi RW, et al. The Role of Two Human Milk Oligosaccharides, 2'-Fucosyllactose and Lacto-N-Neotetraose, in Infant Nutrition. Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2019;22(4):330-340.
  5. Reverri EJ, Devitt AA, Kajzer JA, et al. Review of the Clinical Experiences of Feeding Infants Formula Containing the Human Milk Oligosaccharide 2'-Fucosyllactose. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1346.
  6. Milani C, Duranti S, Bottacini F, Casey E, Turroni F, Mahony J, et al. The First Microbial Colonizers of the Human Gut: Composition, Activities, and Health Implications of the Infant Gut Microbiota. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2017;81(4):e00036-17.
  7. Sprenger N, Tytgat HLP, Binia A, et al. Biology of human milk oligosaccharides: From basic science to clinical evidence. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2022;35(2):280-299.