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.
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.
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, their 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.
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 balances.
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 a 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 pump and have someone healthy 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?
Pumped breast milk still has antibodies, although at a slightly lower concentration than fresh breast milk. Studies show that when breast milk is stored, it loses some of its antibodies. However, even then, it is still richer 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.
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.