Can breast milk protect babies during flu season?
Breast milk offers a number of advantages over cow’s milk and formula because it is the “biologic norm” for infant nutrition. It contains natural human hormones and nutrients that help newborns thrive as well as “distinct bioactive molecules that protect against infection and inflammation and contribute to immune maturation, organ development, and healthy microbial colonization,” according to a study on the composition of human milk.
Unlike cow’s milk or formula, breast milk is dynamic, changing based on the needs of the infant as well as the environment. In other words, yes, breast milk can protect babies during flu season, and much better than the alternatives.
Breast milk strengthens the immune system and, specifically, respiratory health
A pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure, and breast milk is the number one preventative therapy for newborn health. Aside from vitamins and other health-boosting nutrients, human milk contains cells such as macrophages, T cells, stem cells, and lymphocytes. These stimulate the development of a newborn’s immune system, and the effects last for years or, in some cases, for the child’s entire lifetime.
Breast milk passes immune information between mother and child
Because infants’ immune systems are immature when they’re born, they need help from mom’s immune system. Breast milk does more than transfer immunity, though. It actually teaches baby’s immune system what to be on the lookout for. Cytokines and chemokines passed from mother to infant during feeding inform the infant’s immune system of potential threats. This communication improves immune defense against infection and inflammation.
Protection from the flu can be improved by diet, pumping, and vaccination
While breast milk alone will boost your baby’s immune system, you can amplify the flu protection you provide your newborn in several ways.
- Choosing a diet rich in immune-boosting nutrients will transfer those benefits to your baby.
- Getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy or while breastfeeding increases antibodies in breastmilk and offers protection against the flu to your infant.
- Pumping after a feeding session ensures you’re collecting energy-rich hindmilk, which is beneficial to baby’s growth and immune system.
- “Pooling” milk from different pumping sessions can achieve a more uniform supply of beneficial nutrients and provide long-lasting protection from seasonal allergies and infections.
You don’t have to breastfeed to provide the benefits of breast milk
Even if breastfeeding hasn’t worked out for you, you can provide all of the benefits of nursing through pumping. A comfortable breast pump is critical to a successful pumping session. If you’re not sure which breast pump is right for you, get in touch with your friends at Milk N Mamas Baby. We can help you choose a pump that maximizes your comfort and your breastmilk production to ensure baby is protected during flu season.