Breast Milk May Contain Essential Immune Protection for Baby

August 7, 2018

A study published by the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics found that breast milk contains powerful immune cells.1 According to the study, authored by Dr. Jatinder Bhatia, “Milk is a dynamic, living fluid and changes with the varying demands of the infant.”1 A mother’s breast milk may offer immune protection for her baby after delivery and throughout the first weeks of her baby’s life.

The study published in JAMAP is the first to report the presence of innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) in fresh breast milk.1 The study’s author, Dr. Bhatia, is chief of the Section of Neonatology, vice chair of clinical research in the MCG Department of Pediatrics, former chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, and a dedicated advocate for the benefits of breastfeeding.1

The study takes a close look at fresh breast milk from four lactating women. Extensive analysis of cells found in breast milk indicate that the immune cells in breast milk may offer an advantage to babies who breastfeed exclusively during the first weeks of life.1

Breastfeeding Transfers Immune Cells to Baby

The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, and this study indicates that breast milk may also protect babies from infections during the time that their own immune systems are developing. Although ILCs in breast milk are not yet well understood, it is believed they may bridge the gap between the time when a baby is born and when he or she develops an immune system to fight off bacteria and infections.1

The medical community may be more familiar with the other immune cells present in breastmilk:

  • Lymphocytes (T and B cells) – B cells produce antibodies; IgA, is a numerous antibody found in breastmilk.
  • Macrophages – Macrophages play a crucial role in immune function by cleaning up viruses and bacteria, as well as dead cells.

Although the role of ILCs is still being elucidated when it comes to a naive immune system, they seem to be important in directing white blood cells to attack bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. While ILCs don’t attack viruses and bacteria directly, they release chemical signals that activate disease-fighting white blood cells. This entire process is essential when it’s time for babies to fight off infections or bacteria that could make them sick.

Immune Cells in Breast Milk Help Babies Develop a Healthy Gut Microbiome

A baby’s gut microbiome protects against infection and aids digestion. ILCs may help a baby develop a protective mucosal layer inside the gut. This part of a baby’s development is important for protection from infection. ILCs take up residence throughout a baby’s body. Once the immune system becomes more developed, ILCs play a critical role in inflammatory and anti-inflammatory mediated processes of the immune system. Their ultimate duty is to fight off bacteria and infections, keeping baby healthy.1

Support for Breastfeeding Moms & Babies

Breastfeeding mothers need a balanced and healthy diet in addition to adequate nutrition. As part of the breastfeeding preparation process, women should consider their own increased nutritional needs and those of their babies. Prenate® Restore is a once-daily, lactose-free and gluten-free softgel vitamin that supports expecting moms and babies during pregnancy and postpartum.

The nutrients in Prenate® Restore include folic acid, DHA and probiotics. As a prenatal vitamin with probiotics, Prenate® Restore is also appropriate during pregnancy, which means that expecting moms can start supplementation before their babies arrive and continue Prenate® Restore through delivery and postpartum. Talk to your doctor to see if Prenate® Restore is right for you.

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WARNING: Ingestion of more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (such as DHA) per day has been shown to have potential antithrombotic effects, including an increased bleeding time and International Normalized Ratio (INR). Administration of omega-3 fatty acids should be avoided in patients taking anticoagulants and in those known to have an inherited or acquired predisposition to bleeding.

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