According to Dr. Marta Perez, there are immune benefits in breast milk that shouldn't be taken for granted.
The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou
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How does breastmilk work to transfer protection and antibodies from maternal to infant bodies? A mother passes antibodies on to the fetus via the bloodstream. These defenses are pass through the placenta and into the baby during pregnancy.
Those immunizers are called IgG antibodies, and they last for up to months in a baby's bloodstream. That's why it's essential to get vaccines that are approved in pregnancy. Specifically, Dr. Perez recommends getting the flu and the Tdap vaccine before giving birth.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
There's a 20% decrease in lower respiratory tract infections in infants exclusively breastfed for six months or more than infants that are breastfed for four months or less.
It's vital to consider that according to Dr. Perez, babies who are breastfed will still have respiratory infections, but they won't be as severe. On the other hand, there's a 30% decrease in breastfed infants in the number of ear infections.
Most of these protections are in these first few months of life when a baby is entirely dependent on what they're drinking, whether breast milk or formula supplementation.
Some other benefits exist even when children primarily eat breast milk into the second half of the first year of life and maybe a little further, but they're not quite as effective.
How Does Breastfeeding Work To Provide Immunity?
Breast milk itself is a living substance containing essential proteins, enzymes, and active white blood cells that help fight infection when transferred over.
The active enzymes can help break down other types of sugars. Breast milk can also send over different substances that are coating babies' guts. According to Dr. Perez, it works as a probiotic because it fosters a healthy microbiome.
Protecting Babies From COVID-19 Through Breastfeeding
There appears to be a less severe disease in young children when they have COVID-19. There are also lower rates of Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) in babies than there are in older children. However, protection is essential.
According to Dr. Perez, there's not yet an answer regarding if breast milk can protect babies from the virus. But there are some clues. For example, women who have tested positive for COVID-19 have both IgG and secretory IgA against the virus. Since COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, breastfeeding may help fight those effects in the airway.
Dr. Perez found two studies that reveal what it is like having COVID in pregnancy and what happens in breast milk. One case report found that a woman who had COVID during her pregnancy did have IgG and secretory IgA against the virus in her breast milk. Although the baby had some IgG in this serum, Dr. Perez highlights that there is a possibility that the baby received that through the placenta and not the breast milk.
There was another study at Mount Sinai of breast milk samples of 16 women who had had COVID-19. They did find secretory IgA against COVID, so some data shows that if someone had COVID, some of the secretory IgA is present. In conclusion, although there is not still a clear answer, breastfeeding does protect babies against infections.