Breastmilk: How much does a baby need to get antibodies and immunity?

How much breastmilk does a baby need to get antibodies

Breast milk is the ultimate source of nutrition for babies. Every mother’s body perfectly tailor-makes their breast milk to suit their baby’s specific needs. This means it is the only nutritional source that has the right balance of nutrients, is easy to digest, and is readily available.

Research shows the benefits of breastmilk are related to the dosage a baby receives. Your baby needs between 7 to 14ml of colostrum per feeding to get the optimal antibodies per feeding. Within 24 hours after birth, your body produces approximately 37ml of colostrum which is a highly concentrated source of antibodies.  After 3-4 days you start producing breastmilk which reduces the number of active antibodies tenfold, decreasing steadily for 6 to 12 months.

Breastfeeding has a lot of proven benefits for both mother and child. Perhaps the most important is the fact that breast milk helps protect your baby from diseases. Breastfed babies gain extra protection from antibodies that they get from breast milk, which boosts their immunity.

Here is a detailed look at how this works.

Benefits of breast milk

It’s the closest thing to liquid gold. Breast milk is more than just food for babies–it has health benefits that can last even after infancy.

Whether you’re breast- or bottle-feeding, here are some great things about breast milk:

  1. It’s chock-full of antibodies called immunoglobulins: These antibodies in breast milk help fight infection and illness. Newborns get their first dose of these disease fighters while traveling through the birth canal and get a huge boost during their first few days of life as their mother’s milk becomes rich with colostrum (the supercharged milk that comes in the first few days after birth).
  2. It’s free: Breastmilk, unlike Formula milk can be costly. Breast milk is a natural and free source of nutrients for your infant. And if you have twins or another baby, you can nurse one at a time and express the other’s milk to save for later
  3. It’s easy to digest: This may explain why formula-fed babies tend to have more gas and tummy troubles.
  4. It’s a natural painkiller: According to researchers at the University of North Carolina, breast milk contains chemicals that can act like morphine or codeine in the body. So nursing may help relieve your headache or toothache (and your baby’s, too).
  5. It’s free of harmful bacteria: Breast milk is safe from germs found in water, formula, and breast pumps.
  6. It promotes healthy growth and development: Breastfed and babies given breast milk have higher IQs, apparently because breast milk contains DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid). It may lower the risk of obesity later in life, too.
  7. Lowers diabetes risk: The chances of acquiring type 2 diabetes can be reduced by 35 percent, according to pooled data from 11 research. The LancetTrusted Source’s researchers in the 2016 analysis showed a reduction of 24% which is still significant.
  8. Child leukemia decrease: Breastfeeding has been linked to a decreased risk of childhood leukemia in several studies. A 2017 study found that breastfeeding for at least six months reduced the chance of childhood leukemia by 20 percent. According to a review published in 2017, it is a trusted source of 17 unique research reports.

How much breastmilk does a baby need to get antibodies?

For the first five or so days, it is normal for your body to produce a very small amount of milk. On average, the breasts produce about 37 ml of breast milk in the first 24 hours, while the baby consumes about 7 to 14 ml per feeding, which is about 1 or 1.5 teaspoons. It is normal for babies to lose some weight during these first few days. However, your healthcare provider should be carefully monitoring both of you to make sure you are healthy.

Your baby’s stomach capacity will also steadily grow daily over the first week. On the first day, the overall capacity is only about 7 to 10 ml. By the third day, it is about 22 to 27 ml. By this time, they will be feeding a little more regularly, about 8 to 10 times every 24 hours.

Your body matches the nutritional requirements of your child. The more they feed, the more milk will be produced to meet their needs. In this way, the needs of the baby and the amount of breast milk they get are perfectly balanced.

Chart – Breastmilk needed by baby weight

Baby weight (pounds)Breast milk needed (ounces)Baby weight (Kilograms)Breast milk needed (milliliters)
5 lbs12 oz2.0 kg313 ml
6 lbs14 oz2.5 kg391 ml
7 lbs17 oz3.0 kg469 ml
8 lbs19 oz3.5 kg548 ml
9 lbs22 oz4.0 kg626 ml
10 lbs24 oz4.5 kg704 ml
11 lbs26 oz5.0 kg782 ml
12 lbs29 oz5.5 kg861 ml
13 lbs31 oz6.0 kg939 ml
14 lbs34 oz6.5 kg1000 ml

Which antibody is passed through breast milk to the infant?

Breast milk comes packed with important antibodies that help the infant’s body fight off bacteria and viruses. This is especially true for colostrum or the baby’s first milk.

Colostrum is produced over the first few days after delivery. It contains very high amounts of immunoglobulin A, also called IgA. Besides IgA, it also contains other antibodies in varying amounts.

When you are exposed to viruses and bacteria, your body starts producing antibodies. These antibodies get secreted into the breast milk and get passed on to the baby during breastfeeding sessions. So, for instance, if you have the flu, your baby will get antibodies that help them fight flu-causing pathogens, allowing them not to get easily infected.

That being said, do not count on colostrum alone to keep your baby healthy. Practice strict hygiene around your baby, and if you are ill, wash your hands often to avoid infecting your baby. Although their overall immunity has been significantly boosted, infants are still not completely immune from infection.

Immunoglobulin A plays an important role in the baby’s protection as it forms a protective layer in the infant’s nose, throat, and digestive system. This helps prevent bacteria and viruses from accessing and attacking the bay’s underdeveloped immune system. Formula-fed babies do not have this advantage, which is why several studies show that they are at a significantly higher risk of issues like pneumonia, diarrhea, among other health issues and infections.

How long do babies get antibodies from breast milk?

When a baby is born, its immunologic defenses are still not fully developed. This is why the mother’s body moves to compensate by producing colostrum, which offers much-needed additional protection.

Colostrum starts being produced in the mother’s breasts from about the 16th to the 22nd week of pregnancy. However, since it is not being expressed, most mothers will not be aware that it is there.

After birth, during the first 24 hours, your breasts will produce an average of about 37 ml of colostrum, although this amount varies wildly from woman to woman. Your baby needs about 7 to 14 ml of colostrum per feeding.

After about 3 to 4 days of this, your breasts start to feel firmer, signaling the production of breast milk. By the end of the first week, most women will be producing breast milk.

Colostrum is the most concentrated source of antibodies. When the switch to mature breast milk is made, the number of antibodies decreases about tenfold. This decrease continues to happen for about 6 to 12 months, after which there will be a negligible number of antibodies in the breast milk.

Video – Signs my baby is drinking enough breastmilk

How many millilitres (ml) of colostrum does a newborn need

It depends on how much the baby weighs. For a premature or low birth weight baby, they may need as much as 100-200 ml per day. For a full term baby, 30-50 ml per day is typically recommended.

Colostrum is the first milk that a mother produces and it’s loaded with nutrients and antibodies that help protect the baby against infection. It’s also very thick and sticky, which helps to keep the baby’s digestive system clean and healthy in those early days. Colostrum is important for building up the baby’s immune system, so it’s important to make sure they get enough of it.

Does breast milk protect a baby from the flu?

Yes, breast milk does protect your baby from flu, along with a large number of other viral and bacterial infections. Your body produces antibodies that help fight infections that you have been previously exposed to, and this includes the flu virus.

If you have the flu yourself, your body will produce even more antibodies to combat the flu, so by breastfeeding your child, you are helping protect them from the infection that your body is fighting.

That being said, it is important to understand that babies are at a high risk of catching diseases like the flu, and when they do, they easily develop other associated health problems from it. To help prevent this, while you are sick, although you should not discontinue breastfeeding entirely, it is important to put in place measures that help protect the baby from germs. This includes washing your hands often, limiting close face-to-face contact with the baby, and covering your mouth and nose with disposable tissue whenever you cough or sneeze. If you can wear a face mask while you breastfeed to avoid getting into direct contact with the baby’s face, the better.

Additionally, you can also breast-pump and have someone else feed the baby the expressed milk. If your baby is over 6 months old, consider getting flu shots if it is the flu season.

Does pumped breast milk have antibodies?

Yes, pumped breast milk does have antibodies. In fact, it has many of the same benefits as breast milk that is fed to a baby directly from the breast. This is because when a baby sucks on the breast, they stimulate the production of milk as well as help squeeze any antibodies that are present in the mammary glands up into the milk. Pumping also helps to stimulate this process, so pumped breast milk can be just as beneficial as breast milk that is fed to a baby directly.

Pumped breast milk, therefore, retains all of the same beneficial properties as breast milk that is directly fed to your baby. So if you need to pump breast milk for any reason (e.g., to feed it to your baby later when you’re not there, or to store it for future use), know that you’re still providing your child with some of the best nourishment possible.

Pumped breast milk still has antibodies, although at a very slightly lower concentration than fresh breast milk. Studies show that when breast milk is stored, it loses some of its antioxidants and antibodies. However, even then, breastmilk is still richer and more beneficial than formula.

How much breast milk provides immunity?

The primary antibody agent in breast milk is IgA, or Immunoglobulin A. During the first week after birth, while the baby’s immune system is still developing, the baby gets about 0.25 or 0.5 grams of secretory IgA every day. This amount significantly boosts their immunity and helps prevent infections by bacteria and viruses.

After the first week, when the switch to regular breast milk is made, the concentration of IgA in the milk reduces significantly. The baby’s immunity is quite well developed by then, so there is less need for additional protection from the mother. This reduction continues to happen over about 6 to 12 months, so that by the end of the 12th month after birth, the breast milk contains negligible amounts of antibodies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. They suggest that mothers and babies continue to breastfeed after the infant’s first year, as mutually determined by mother and baby.

Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months can help your baby avoid contracting an upper respiratory illness by 35 percent, according to a 2010 population-based study. A smaller study also found that breastfed infants had a better chance of developing immunity to the flu.

What is the minimum amount of breastmilk to get the benefits?

There is no minimum amount of breast milk that is beneficial. All breastmilk is beneficial for babies, and it is the best source of nutrition for them. Breastmilk provides important nutrients that help babies grow and develop, as well as antibodies that help them fight off infections. It also contains important growth factors that help promote healthy development in infants. Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mothers and babies, and it is recommended that mothers breastfeed their infants for as long as possible.

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. Breastfeeding has a host of benefits for both mother and child, including reducing the risk of infant mortality and morbidity, as well as increasing the child’s cognitive development.

So while there isn’t a specific “minimum amount” of breastmilk that is beneficial, it’s clear that breastfeeding offers significant benefits for both mother and child and should be encouraged whenever possible. And if you compare breast milk to formula you can see that breastmilk has far more nutrients for optimal baby health – although admittedly many mothers do choose to feed their baby formula for valid reasons.

Final Thoughts

Although it is highly recommended, sometimes it may not be possible for some mothers to breastfeed their babies. If you are unable to breastfeed for some reason, feeding your baby with formula is still perfectly alright. Your baby will still get all the nutrients they need in this way.

That being said, breastfeeding is the perfect excuse to conveniently sit down, put your feet up, and relax as you bond with your little one. Few things can beat that.


[Centre for Disease Control]

[National Library of Medicine]

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