The Unique Value of Human Milk

Human Milk

According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), today only 40% of newborns are breastfed during the first six months of life; so, the majority of newborns are fed with artificial human milk alternatives, contradicting some important guidelines suggested, by the WHO, to ensure the optimal development of newborns and maximum protection against many illnesses.

Breast milk is truly the perfect food. The long list of features and benefits of this incredible product of the human body increases steadily – a recent study found that human milk contributes to preventing the onset of heart disease in preterm babies. Understanding how this first food works is the first step towards a new awareness of the close relationship between the way we eat and our health.

The WHO guidelines recognize breastfeeding as essential for the first two years of the infant’s life. During this period, other foods can be introduced, but the recommendation, at least for the first six months, is to use exclusively breast milk: the reason is that the so-called baby formulas, which are commercial alternatives for breast milk, do not possess the nutritional and immunological characteristics that are unique to human milk because they do not contain antibodies and human milk oligosaccharides.

Human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) are complex chains of sugar molecules unique to human milk, whose role has been fully understood only in recent years: they are not digested by infants but used to feed the good bacteria that will seed the baby gut, thus strengthening his or her immune systems. This relationship between milk and the establishment and maintenance of the baby’s microbiome is a most wonderful example of the complexity of evolutionary mechanisms.

Breast milk also contains all the nutrients that babies need in the first six months of life and possesses many substances, like HMOs and vitamins, that protect them from diseases. In addition to being more resilient, babies fed with breast milk develop better cognitive skills and are less prone to develop obesity during childhood.

These are the components present in human milk and their role in infants’ growth:

Protein: Protein is the nutrient that contributes the most to the infant’s growth.

Lipids: Fat is crucial for the development of the infant’s neurological system.

Carbs: Carbohydrates are all the lactose and HMOs in the milk.

Immunoglobulins: Immunoglobulins are antibodies that fight off the germs that cause disease. Breast milk contains antibodies that fight off bacteria, viruses, fungus, and parasites.

Hormones: Hormones have many jobs in the human body. They control growth and development, metabolism, stress, pain, and blood pressure.

Vitamins: Vitamins contribute to healthy bones, eyes, and skin. Breast milk contains the vitamins that are necessary for the baby’s health as he/she grows.

Enzymes: There are important enzymes in human breast milk. Some enzymes help with digestion by breaking down fats or proteins, and others protect your baby from germs and illness.

Minerals: Breast milk is full of minerals. Some of the minerals in breast milk are iron, zinc, calcium, sodium, magnesium, and selenium.

Lactose: Lactose is the main sugar in milk, and provides most of the energy needed by the growing infant. It is a part of the total carbohydrates and is the nutritionally relevant sugar.

HMOs: These oligosaccharides are unique to human milk. They are not digestible by the infant, but rather serve to feed the gut microbiome, which has many nutritional and health benefits.

Energy: Calorie intake is key for the development of the baby and is calculated from the content of various components.

Water: An excess of water means a possible dilution of the milk that can reduce its nutritive value.

Sometimes human milk is not enough

Sometimes, even human milk needs to be fortified in order to fulfill the metabolic and growth demands of specific categories of infants: low birth weight (LBW) and preterm ones.

According to recent statistics, 20 million LBW children are born every year (15% of the total) and 15 million of them are born prematurely. In order to avoid undernourishment and to grow optimally, some of these babies have unique nutritional needs. The mother’s milk does not provide sufficient nutrition for some of these infants, leading to slow growth with the risk of neurocognitive impairment and other poor health outcomes. Also, current baby formulas, as mentioned, do not contain HMOs to boost their immune system. So, pediatricians and neonatologists turn to the fortification of the mother’s milk.

The objective of fortification is to increase the concentration of nutrients to the levels recommended for the individual preterm infant. The Preemie sensor is able to accurately analyze human milk composition and can suggest the best fortification according to the actual developmental needs of the child. This contributes to LBW and preterm infants’ health and development and provides them with the very same opportunities as all other babies.


Introducing Preemie Project, a Revolutionary System for Human Milk Analysis and Fortification


The Horizon 2020 SME Instrument Phase 2 is one of the key instruments promoted by the European Commission for funding research and innovation in Europe. It aims to support high-potential SMEs to develop and commercialize ground-breaking products, able to shape new markets or disrupt existing ones in Europe and worldwide.

Preemie presented its project in the 2019 June cut-off, both in the form of a written proposal and then pitching in front of a jury of business experts and investors. The project scored an outstanding evaluation of 14.6 over 15 and was one of the 63 proposals funded amongst 2025 submitted from 40 different countries, thus succeeding with less than a 3% success rate.

Such result confirms that the European Commission strongly believes in the high innovation potential of Preemie in the fields of data analytics software, bioinformatics, and Artificial Intelligence, and in its capacity to innovate the Food and Health sectors with new AI-backed NIR systems.

The Preemie project applies the patented company’s technology in the Health sector. Each year 500,000 preterm babies are born in Europe (15 million globally) and they often have poor health, with a severe lifetime impact on their quality of life and that of their families. Inadequate nutrition is the major reason for preterm infants’ ill health since they need more nutrition than is provided by their mother’s milk. So, the milk needs to be fortified to avoid undernourishment, but the fortification typically done at hospitals does not take into account the individual differences in the human milk’s composition and the infant’s nutritional needs. This is because current tools for measuring human milk composition are expensive, labour intensive, and require specially trained personnel.

Thanks to the EU endorsement, Preemie will finally develop, certify and commercialize Preemie. This first rapid, portable, affordable, and easy-to-use system reliably measures human milk composition and automatically suggests the fortification of the milk tested, based on the infant’s necessities. The system is also able to correlate the growth of the infant with the detailed nourishment given.

Preemie also uses blockchain technology to trace the origin and confirm the authenticity of the donor’s milk. The system is poised to disrupt the existing market by allowing NICUs and milk banks to scan all donor milk and automatically suggest fortification based on each infant’s individual needs, resulting in optimal babies’ growth and health.

As confirmed by the European Commission in its evaluation, “The innovation has the potential to disrupt several markets with further applications of the technology. The product will have a significant impact in the efficiency of the existing markets”. The funding will allow Preemie to finalize the mass-production of the Preemie device, accelerate the company’s growth and further consolidate its scientific reliability and overall brand reputation amongst its customers.

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