Infant Immunity & Breastfeeding

Newborn Immunity Through Breast Milk

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Active and Passive Infant Immunity

infant immunity, immunity of breast milk

What is immunity?

The protection that breastmilk provides that is designed for a baby’s immune system. Many child immunity disorders can be avoided; you can increase the immunity of your baby, just by breastfeeding!

  • Active immunity is a response of the baby’s own immune system.
  • Passive immunity is immunity received via active disease-fighting properties of breastmilk. The mother’s body creates the disease-fighting cells and antibodies and then sends them to her baby, via feeding. 
  • A baby who breastfeeds exclusively for the first 6 months and who continues to breastfeed, has an increased benefit from this immunity. 

When the breast milk is low, the concentration of immune factors is higher, such as the first few months after birth and during weaning.

Immune System Components of Breast Milk

Breast milk contains:

  • White blood cells and immunity: Phagocytes attack pathogens by “eating" them. Lymphocytes attack the walls of viruses. 
  • Different antibodies that attack specific pathogens: These are called Immunoglobulins. These antibodies also help to protect the digestive tract; also protecting against diarrhea. 
  • Antibodies that attack more than one pathogen “broad-spectrum protection": One of these is Lactoferrin, which is a protein that combats E-coli and Candida (yeast infection). Another one is Bifidus, which is the good bacteria in the gut preventing disease. Another is Oligosaccharides, this is a carbohydrate that keeps pathogens from burrowing into the digestive tract. 
  • Anti-inflammatories: Antioxidants, enzymes such as catalase, hormonmes such as cortisol, IgA and prostagladins. 
  • Immunostimulants: These help the baby’s immune system develop itself. It also helps clear out bacteria and waste products from the blood system. 

And...interesting extras: 

  • Breast milk contains PSTI (pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor). This property protects and repairs a baby's intestines. Colostrum is especially important because it seals a newborn's intestinal walls against foreign substances and passage of viruses and bacteria.
  • Human growth factor develops the baby's intestines, bones, and organs. 
  • Human milk contains insulin for healthy digestion. 
  • Human milk contains lactose for brain development. 

Breast milk can treat eye infections and even speed up the healing of skin issues. Read all about the different uses of breast milk here

What does this mean for Baby?

  • Without breast milk, your baby is at higher risk of ear infections, respiratory issues, and gut problems. 
  • Without breast milk, your baby's eyes, nerves, and gut DO NOT develop fully, the way they were naturally intended to. 
  • A formula-fed baby's organs need to work harder to process all the waste products in formula. 
  • The vitamins and nutrients in formula are not processed and used as effectively as those found in breast milk. 
  • The risk of SIDS is higher in formula-fed babies. 
  • A formula-fed child/adult is at higher risk of Crohn's disease, type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, cancer, and heart disease. 
  • A formula-fed baby/adult has a lower stress threshold and is prone to high blood pressure problems. 
  • When babies are formula-fed, they are at higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis later on in life. 
  • Formula-fed babies are at higher risk of allergic reactions and immune issues such as eczema. 
  • Formula increases the risk of anemia, gut infection and intestinal bleeding. 
  • Any germs that your baby picks up are communicated to the breast when you breastfeed. The next time your baby nurses he/she will receive specialized antibodies to fight those specific germs.

Will Extended Breastfeeding Provide Immune Benefits?
Should you Breastfeed past 18 Months?

Good reasons to breastfeed past 18 months:

  • Even though the amount of milk that is taken in stays the same, the level of antibodies and immune factors increase over time! This is natural proof that we are intended to breastfeed for longer. 
  • Babies are less likely to eat during illness, but a breastfed baby will usually breastfeed more when ill (for comfort). This is an excellent way for a sick child to receive all the nutrition and comfort possible. 

What if Baby or Mom is Sick?

A breastfed baby not only lives on a mother's milk but shares her immune system. By the time you or your baby is sick, your breast milk has already passed immunities on to your baby. By depriving your child of breast milk, you are removing his/her immune protection. 

When you realize that breast milk is a living thing, it becomes clear how inferior formula actually is, and how important it is for every baby to receive this immunity. 

Infant Immunity Page References:

  • The womanly art of breastfeeding, 8th edition. 

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