If you are anything like my family, you or someone in your household has been ill (or dodging illness) this winter. A few weeks ago my daughters middle school emailed to let us know that about a third of the student body has been absent the past few weeks. Yikes!
It’s natural to worry that babies are the most vulnerable, and they can be, if they become ill, but breastfeeding is one of the best protections against getting sick in the first place. Nobody has a better chance at avoiding everything from the mild sniffles to the nasty norovirus and everything in between than infants receiving the immune boosting, virus fighting antibody-rich super-food.
Breastmilk contains hundreds of unique ingredients only found in human milk that make it one of the best preventatives your baby can receive against just about anything they could be exposed to this season. Here are some facts about a few of my favorite breastmilk ingredients!
Lactoferrin: this iron binding glycoprotein (I just think that is fun to say) binds up iron in the infant gut and makes it harder for bacteria to proliferate, reducing the overall risk that bacteria even stand a chance. Lactoferrin also has strong anti-viral activity against viral pathogens that cause the common cold and influenza by inhibiting viral attachment to cells.
Antimicrobial Factors: The list of these is very long but here area few highlights! White blood cells (leukocytes); phagocytes and macrophages (cells that literally engulf and devour bacteria), B cells which produce antibodies in response to pathogenic invaders; and T cells which produces enzymes to kill those pathogens. Both B and T cells produce “memory cells” which helps them respond faster to future exposures.
Secretory IgA: These antibodies found in breast milk are essential in the defense of the mucous membranes (the lining of the gut and respiratory tract). These antibodies inhibit entry of bacteria and viruses in the tissues and are anti-inflammatory as well. They are super concentrated in colostrum, the breastmilk the baby receives in the first few days of life, and are present throughout the entire length of lactation.
Stay well out there and join us for Welcome to Motherhood where I am always available to chat about nerdy breastfeeding science, motherhood, and all things parenting and baby related!
About the Author:
Jennifer Hoover is a maternal-child health specialist, board certified lactation consultant, childbirth educator and writer for The Women’s Clinic of Northern Colorado.