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Does Breastfeeding Help a Baby's Immune System?

by Kathryn Hatter

The benefits of breastfeeding abound, making this parenting decision the right one for many mothers. Breastmilk provides babies with every nutritional component necessary to be healthy, states the American Academy of Pediatrics website. Another benefit of breastfeeding includes the natural boost to the baby’s immune system.

Immune System Boost

The first breastmilk available after birth – colostrum – is highly concentrated milk that contains higher amounts of antibodies, cells and other elements, states Robert M. Lawrence and Ruth A. Lawrence, with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Generally, breastmilk transitions from colostrum to mature milk within the first two weeks of breastfeeding. Mature breastmilk also contains antibodies that boost a baby’s immune system, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Breastmilk has enzymes and white blood cells that provide real-time protection during the breastfeeding period and often even beyond breastfeeding after the child weans. Breastmilk also contains the ideal levels of protein, sugar and fat to keep a baby healthy.

Antibodies

A mother who has virus germs is likely to pass the germs to the breastfeeding baby. By continuing to breastfeed, the baby also receives effective antibodies to the virus through the breastmilk. The antibodies may act in one of two ways, offers the American Academy of Pediatrics. The antibodies may help the child by lessening the severity of the virus or they may enable the child to fight off the virus completely.

Prebiotics

Breastmilk contains ingredients that promote healthy intestinal bacteria. With the presence of breastmilk in the intestines, the prebiotics contained in the breastmilk encourage the growth of probiotics in the intestines. Babies who receive formula often have more harmful bacteria present in intestines than breastfed babies. The lower pH level of breastfed babies’ intestines inhibits the growth of E. coli and Staphylococcus.

Additional Benefits

Babies receiving breastmilk often have fewer ear infections. In addition, breastfed babies receive fewer tonsillectomies, have lower adult cholesterol levels, have fewer upper respiratory infections and less influenza and pneumonia, according to Ask Dr. Sears, a website run by pediatricians. Breastfed babies also have fewer gastrointestinal infections and have a smaller risk of contracting diabetes, states the Ask Dr. Sears. Breastfed babies may receive some protection against allergic diseases such as atopic dermatitis and wheezing, states the American Academy of Pediatrics website.

About the Author

Kathryn Hatter is a veteran home-school educator, as well as an accomplished gardener, quilter, crocheter, cook, decorator and digital graphics creator. As a regular contributor to Natural News, many of Hatter's Internet publications focus on natural health and parenting. Hatter has also had publication on home improvement websites such as Redbeacon.

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