Early life nutrition

One gut, a lifetime of opportunity

Powered by GOS and HMOs – How infant formula makers can leverage the magic of the
microbiome to unleash infant health benefits linked to immunity, digestive comfort, brain
development and healthy growth.

Our belief

The gut plays an important role in the health and well-being of infants. Early life gut development and maturation is needed to ensure a first line of defence against threats from the external environment¹, microbiota development², proper digestion and absorption of nutrients³, and development of the immune system⁴.

Gut health feeds into many different aspects of health in early life and finds its basis in the colonisation of the gut with beneficial micro-organisms, i.e. the establishment of the infant’s gut microbiota².

A ‘microbiota’ is defined as a collection of micro-organisms residing within a specific part of the body, for instance the gut. Together, all micro-organisms and their activities in various parts of the human body are termed the ‘microbiome’. The development of the gut microbiota in early life has been associated with long-term health effects, highlighting the importance of offering nutritional solutions that can support gut health in infants.

In breast-fed infants, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) steer the development of the gut microbiota. HMOs are non-digestible carbohydrates that are fermented by specific bacteria in the infant gut, thereby providing optimal conditions for the growth of beneficial bacteria that support gut health. So far, over 200 HMO varieties have been identified in human milk, including 2’-Fucosyllactose (2’-FL), 3’-Sialyllactose (3’-SL) and Lacto-N-Tetraose (LNT), each of which is expected to have its own potential benefits for infant gut health⁷⁻¹². Alongside HMOs, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), a complex mixture of over 100 oligosaccharides¹³ that is derived from an enzymatic conversion of lactose from cow’s milk, consists of similar building blocks as HMOs and is recognised for its positive impact on the gut microbiota¹⁴.

At FrieslandCampina Ingredients, we believe that delivering a larger variety of non-digestible oligosaccharides, e.g. a combination of GOS and HMOs, can be of key importance for the establishment of the gut microbiota and its metabolism, thereby feeding into many different health aspects in early life and beyond. As a unique provider of both GOS and HMO solutions, we can offer a wider diversity of structures to bring the concept of gut health to the next level.

‘One gut, a lifetime of opportunity’

For more information: [download our ‘Gut health’ 2-pager]

Benefit areas linked to gut health

Creating the right environment for beneficial bacteria to grow in the infant gut has been shown to support gut health and other aspects of health and well-being, both in early life as well as later in life²⁺⁵. Four key benefit areas have been identified where the gut microbiota plays an important role in supporting health:



‘One gut, a lifetime of immune health benefits’

In early life, the infant’s immune system has not fully developed and matured yet. Protective immunoglobulins received from the mother during the final stage of pregnancy, as well as protective components in human milk, are important to safeguard the infant’s health. A healthy gut microbiota is of key importance during immune development, since ~70% of the immune system is active in the gut¹⁵.

HMOs have been shown to support the development of the immune system via the growth of beneficial bacteria¹⁶. Furthermore, immune development in early life can be supported by strengthening the gut barrier, inhibiting pathogen binding, and modulating the immune response¹⁶.

GOS and HMOs (2’-FL, LNT, 3-Fucosyllactose [3-FL]) serve as substrates for the growth of bifidobacteria⁷⁻¹⁰, leading to the production of metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)¹⁷. SCFAs can lower the gut pH¹⁴, which further enables the growth of beneficial bacteria¹⁴, and interact with cells of the immune system¹⁷. Furthermore, the growth of beneficial bacteria can crowd out potentially pathogenic bacteria through a competitive advantage¹⁴⁺¹⁸⁺¹⁹.

Specific health outcomes in clinical trials where a reduced incidence of infections was observed have been connected to the presence of GOS in infant formula²⁰⁺²¹. In a study using a formula supplemented with 2’-FL + Lacto-N-neoTetraose (LNnT), the supplemented HMOs increased the number of infants with a gut microbiota composition high in Bifidobacteriaceae. These high Bifidobacteriaceae levels were associated with a decreased risk of requiring antibiotics¹⁹.

Our next HMO on offer, after 2’-FL, will be LNT. LNT is a highly abundant²² neutral core HMO in human milk and has been recognised for its bifidogenic10 and anti-pathogenic activity in vitro¹¹⁺¹².

For more information: [download our ‘Gut-immune health’ 2-pager]

Digestive comfort

‘One gut, a lifetime of digestive health’

In early life, the gastrointestinal tract of infants has not reached a matured stage yet. The digestion and absorption of food can be suboptimal, leading to complaints of gut discomfort in otherwise healthy infants²³. According to FrieslandCampina Ingredients’ and Innova Market Insights’ recent consumer research, the most frequent symptoms reported by parents of infants (0–1 years) are related to gut discomfort²⁴. Moreover, stool consistency and frequency can be altered in formula-fed infants as compared to breast-fed infants²⁵. Overall, gut discomfort often leads to crying and fussing behaviour among infants, which puts pressure on parents and caretakers²³. Solutions to support gut comfort through functional ingredients in infant formula are therefore of key interest.

Increased digestive comfort has been observed in formula-fed infants who received a GOS supplemented formula (4g/L). This improved stool consistency and transit time²⁶⁺²⁷. The underlying mechanisms of action are considered to involve the infant’s gut microbiota, which is positively influenced by GOS¹⁴⁺²⁶.

At FrieslandCampina, we aim to improve and validate our research methods continuously. This has led to a partnership with Wageningen University & Research, Emma’s Children’s Hospital and Sensus to validate the modified Bristol Stool Form Scale (mBSFS) for use in young children. The modified scale can be used by Dutch-speaking parents and caretakers of both toilet-trained and non-toilet-trained toddlers to assess stool consistency and monitor digestive comfort and health²⁸.

For more information: [download our ‘Gut-Digestive health’ 2-pager]


‘One gut, a lifetime of cognitive health support’

The first year of life is a time of momentous development for the human brain²⁹. Babies start to explore their world and are initiating social interactions. According to new consumer research, more than 50% of parents are concerned about their infant’s cognitive development²⁴. As we learn more and more about the connection between the gut and the brain – the so-called gut-brain axis³⁰, we believe that nutrition is of key importance at this vulnerable stage in life.

Fermentation of non-digestible oligosaccharides by the gut microbiota leads to the release of metabolites like SCFAs and neurotransmitters³¹. By using specific gut-brain pathways, these components can have a direct or indirect influence on neuro-cognitive development and brain function³⁰⁺³².

HMOs are non-digestible carbohydrates that are recognised for their support of the growth of beneficial bacteria in the infant gut¹⁶. Among the HMOs identified to date, 2’-FL is the most abundant type in human milk⁷. 2’-FL has been associated positively with cognitive outcomes and motor skill scores in 18-month-old children³³. In addition, 3’-SL and 6’-SL belong to the acidic type of oligosaccharides named sialyllactoses. These contain sialic acid that is involved in brain development in early life³⁴. 3’-SL has been associated positively with language development in infants³⁵, whereas 6’-SL has been associated positively with cognitive and motor skill scores in 18-month-old children³³. Next to the potential effects of oligosaccharides on infant neurodevelopment, studies also suggest that oligosaccharides can impact mood and well-being: a recent study on GOS supplementation showed a reduction in symptoms of stress and anxiety in a highly anxious group of young adults³⁶.

Bringing these scientific insights together, FrieslandCampina Ingredients is developing a new GOS solution, Vivinal® GOS-SL, that contains sialyllactose structures. This solution may allow us to tap into the cognitive benefits of oligosaccharide supplementation during early life development.

For more information: [download our ‘Gut-Brain health’ 2-pager]

Growth and Development

‘One gut, a lifetime of healthy growth’

Early life nutrition is of key importance during periods of rapid growth and development. Next to the building blocks and energy derived from macronutrients, micronutrients are essential for the normal development of e.g. bones and tissues. Specifically, calcium and phosphorus are needed in sufficient quantities to ensure bone development in early life, whereas iron and zinc contribute to normal cognitive function³⁷⁻³⁹. Micronutrient deficiencies are not always visible, but can have a lifelong impact on health.

Calcium and iron deficiencies are among the most prevalent in children⁴⁰. The risk of a deficiency can be partially mitigated by a healthy diet that includes food groups that are naturally high in – or fortified with – these micronutrients. However, micronutrients used to fortify foods can have limited bioavailability. The absorption of iron supplements, for instance, is generally poor⁴¹. GOS has been shown to enhance the solubility of minerals in the gut, thereby enhancing their absorption. It has been postulated that the responsible mechanism of action is the reduction of the gut pH by microbiota fermentation of GOS resulting in SCFA formation⁴². GOS has been shown to enhance the absorption of calcium (5g of GOS/day) in young girls⁴³ and iron (7.5g of GOS/day) in infants⁴⁴. In the latter study, GOS simultaneously mitigated the adverse effects of iron supplements on gut microbiota composition disturbance and infection risk⁴⁵. So far, GOS is the only oligosaccharide ingredient that has been shown to have clinically proven effects on iron absorption in children⁴⁴.

Our newly developed ingredient Vivinal® GOS Nutri can support mineral absorption in young children⁴³⁺⁴⁴. The unique light process that we use preserves the naturally occurring minerals and makes Vivinal® GOS Nutri an ingredient that is both suitable and affordable for Young Child Formula (YCF) applications.

For more information: [download our ‘Gut-Healthy Growth’ 2-pager]

Download the 2-pagers


For more information download the 'Gut-Immune health' 2-pager

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Read more about Immunity


For more information download the 'Gut-Digestive health' 2-pager

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Read more about Digestion


For more information download the 'Gut-Brain health' 2-pager

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Read more about Brain

Growth and Development

For more information download the 'Gut-Healthy growth' 2-pager

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Read more about Growth and Development

Insights from Parents and Health Care Professionals

Today’s parents are health-conscious and highly informed. Together with Innova Market Insights, FrieslandCampina Ingredients conducted a consumer insights survey among parents from seven countries: USA, Brazil, UK, France, Germany, China and Indonesia (n=750 per country)²⁴. At FrieslandCampina Ingredients, we leverage a combination of deep consumer understanding and industry insight to create high-quality ingredient solutions for infant formula manufacturers.

The research revealed that 55% of parents worldwide are concerned about their child’s gut health, with the highest percentage observed among Chinese parents (85%). Parents mostly associate ‘gut health’ with digestive health, while >40% also associate it with immunity, growth and development as well as cognitive function.

For many parents, health care professionals (HCPs) are the key source of advice where optimal nutrition for their infant is concerned. Together with partners Presans and Einerhand Science & Innovation, FrieslandCampina Ingredients conducted an insights survey among paediatricians, neonatologists and dietitians in the UK, USA and China to investigate the future direction of infant nutrition according to HCPs⁴⁶.

Overall, the majority of paediatricians and neonatologists (65%) are conscious about the importance of the gut microbiota in supporting children’s health. HCPs acknowledged DHA, GOS, lactoferrin, 2’-FL and ARA as the most important functional ingredients for infant formula, amongst which GOS and 2’-FL are most strongly associated with gut microbiota and gut health.

For more information: [download our HCP insights study infographic] and [download our parental insights study infographic]

Why FrieslandCampina Ingredients?


At FrieslandCampina Ingredients, it is our mission to create and deliver ingredient solutions that are trusted globally to nourish infants to the best extent when breastfeeding is not an option. We believe that a large variety of oligosaccharide structures can offer a wide range of benefits centered around gut health, since each oligosaccharide is expected to have specific modes of action.

FrieslandCampina Ingredients is unique in offering both GOS and HMO* solutions, thereby providing the opportunity to increase and diversify the total oligosaccharide composition of infant milk formulas. More than 200 HMO structures have been identified in human milk, inspiring infant milk formula manufacturers to expand their oligosaccharide offerings. GOS is a complex mixture of over 100 oligosaccharides derived from the enzymatic conversion of lactose¹³. Moreover, GOS is built up from glucose and galactose, which are also building blocks of HMOs. Adding GOS and HMOs creates a more structurally complete formula suggested to target a wider range of health benefits starting in the gut.

As a result, we are expanding our portfolio with the next generation of HMOs: with 2’-FL already on offer, we are adding LNT and 3’-SL. Our ambition to evolve our prebiotic** solutions continuously has also prompted us to develop the next generation of GOS, with a specific focus on SL structures.

Our offerings are supported by high-quality research and designed to enrich a broad range of formula propositions, from affordable to ultra-premium solutions. Backed up by over 75 years of experience in production and research in early life nutrition, we are a proud global leader in the infant milk formula ingredients industry.


Are you inspired to learn more about our ingredient solutions? Get in touch today! 

Ingredients on offer


Vivinal® GOS

Vivinal® GOS is a galacto-oligosaccharide ingredient produced from high quality lactose using an enzymatic production technology. Scientific studies have shown positive effects of GOS on the growth of bifidobacteria¹⁴⁺⁴⁷, stool consistency²⁶⁺²⁷, immune defenses²⁰⁺⁴⁸⁻⁵⁰  and mineral absorption⁴³⁺⁴⁴⁺⁵¹. 


Vivinal® GOS Nutri

Vivinal® GOS NutriVivinal® GOS is a galacto-oligosaccharide ingredient produced from whey permeate that can support mineral absorption in young children⁴³⁺⁴⁴⁺⁵². The unique light process applied preserves the naturally occurring minerals and makes Vivinal® GOS Nutri an ingredient that is both suitable and affordable for young child formula applications. 



Aequival® 2’-FL

Aequival 2’-FL is a human milk oligosaccharide (HMO) ingredient produced with fermentation technology using lactose as a substrate. 2’-FL is the most abundant HMO in human milk⁵³ and scientific research has shown that it can stimulate the growth of beneficial Bifidobacteria in the gut as well as reduce the risk of infection⁵⁴⁺⁵⁵.



Aequival® LNT

 Aequival LNT is a human milk oligosaccharide (HMO) ingredient produced with fermentation technology using lactose as a substrate. LNT is the most abundant neutral non-fucosylated HMO in human milk⁵⁶. Findings from pre-clinical studies suggest that LNT can contribute to enhancing Bifidobacteria in the gut10 and reducing infections with specific pathogens¹¹⁺⁵⁷⁺⁵⁸.

Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for the healthy growth and development of babies. This information is intended for B2B professionals only. Potential consumer benefits are not to be considered as health claims. They should be considered as potential leads that might be developed into health claims that comply with the local legal requirements.


* Human milk oligosaccharides, not from human milk.
** The scientific definition of a prebiotic is ‘a substrate that is selectively utilised by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit’. Gibson GR, et al. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of prebiotics. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Aug;14(8):491-502. Whether the claim ‘prebiotic’ can be used on consumer products depends on local legislation.

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