There are many benefits of breastfeeding, for both babies and mothers, but one of the most important is the way it boosts the baby’s immune system and helps protect the infant from infectious microbes like viruses and bacteria. Breastmilk serves as an impressive defensive “army” to protect them from infection and breastmilk contains immune cells that stay in your baby’s body, providing some immunity for the long-term.
How Does Breastmilk Provide Immunity?
In pregnancy, the mother passes antibodies to her baby through the placenta. The womb is a self-contained world where the fetus is protected from infection by the mother’s own body and immune system. But once the baby is born, it needs new protection from the infectious microbes of the world outside the mother’s body. A child’s immune response system does not reach its full strength until around age five so how does feeding breastmilk help, if only for a few months or weeks? Mother’s milk gives a useful immune boost for as long as a child is breastfeeding. But what about once they stop receiving breastmilk? The good news is that the effects of breastmilk on the immune system continue throughout life, as also acknowledged by La Leche League. This is because breastmilk contains components that actually direct the development of a child’s own immune system – so if you breastfeed your child, you’re not just helping them stay healthy today – you’re helping them (hopefully) enjoy a healthier life for many years to come.
This is one of the biggest reasons why breastfeeding is so important. Breastmilk contains literally thousands of different components that support the immune system in some way or the other. Breastmilk-fed infants gain extra protection from antibodies, other proteins and defence factors in human breastmilk. Moreover, there are cells in fresh breastmilk that work to protect a child’s immune system. T cells are like soldiers that search out and destroy the invaders and B cells, which make antibodies against pathogens to strengthen the immune system.
What are the Guidelines for Vaccinations?
Even though breastfeeding offers significant immunological protection, it is advised that the immunity benefits of breastfeeding should be supplemented by recommended vaccinations against specific illnesses. So, you still will want to keep your child vaccinated on schedule so that they can be immunized against certain diseases as they get older.
The Canadian Paediatric Society and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommend several vaccinations for children to receive, including 5-in-1 (protection against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and Hib disease), MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), Hepatitis B vaccine, dTap (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, or “whooping cough”), and several others.
Please read this article for the full list of recommended vaccines and explanations of which illnesses they protect against, as well as a full immunization schedule so you can see the various ages when children are recommended to get the various vaccines. For a bilingual booklet on immunizations go here. For a book from the Canadian Paediatric Society called Your Child’s Best Shot go here. For more information about the amazing benefits of breastfeeding, read our article, “Your Baby Wants YOU to Join the Breastmilk Army.”
Breastmilk just might be the most mysterious and powerful liquid on the planet! It is designed to protect from viruses and bacteria and has super powers to give your baby the best start in life. By breastfeeding or feeding breastmilk from a bottle, you are giving your child the most amazing gift in the world and allowing them to grow up strong and resilient.
What are your thoughts on this? Were you aware of breastmilk’s fascinating immune-defense capabilities? Do you have any questions about vaccines? Leave a comment and let us know, or join the conversation on the Medela Singapore Facebook page.