How Antibodies (Immunoglobulins) in Breast Milk Help a Baby

How Antibodies (Immunoglobulins) in Breast Milk Help a Mother and Baby

Breast milk is an ideal source of nutrition for a baby. If you’re a new mother, you know this all too well. Your breast milk contains a perfect mix of vitamins, protein, fat, and other nutrients that your baby needs for healthy growth and development. It also contains immunoglobulins, the antibodies that help your baby fight off virus and bacteria and infections. These antibodies or immunoglobulins are found in saliva, sweat, blood, and breast milk. The presence of immunoglobulins in breast milk can be very beneficial for a newborn and his mother. If you’re a new mum, read this article how immunoglobulins present in your breast milk can be good for your little one.

What Type of Immunoglobulins Are Found in Breast Milk?

A pregnant woman’s body makes antibodies when it is exposed to pathogens as a part of the body’s defence mechanism. These antibodies get transferred from the mother to her baby through breast milk.

There are five types of antibodies that are present in breast milk, which are explained below:

  • IgA: IgA or Secretory immunoglobulin an (iga) is one of the most important immunoglobulins and is found abundantly in breast milk. This is because babies have very low amounts of IgA at birth and their bodies take weeks to months to produce ample IgA that can help the baby fight infections. IgA makes up 15% of the antibodies in our immune system and protects parts the various parts of our body through which microbes can enter, like the nose, mouth, eyes, and ears.
  • IgD: This is the rarest of the immunoglobulins and it is attached to the surface of B-cells that are white blood cells that fight microbes that enter our blood. IgD controls the activation and suppression of the B-cells.
  • IgE: IgE is also quite rare and is found on basophil cells in our blood. IgE regulates allergic reactions and is also produced in response to infection by parasitic worms and amoeba.
  • IgG: This is the most abundant antibody in our system and accounts for 85% of all antibodies in our blood. It can cross the placenta in pregnant women and protect the unborn baby. It helps neutralize toxins, kill bacteria, and inactivate viruses.
  • IgM: This makes up 13 to 15% of our antibodies and is like a ‘first-responder’ in our body, effectively destroying invading bacteria.

The five types of immunoglobulins present in breast milk

How Does Breastfeeding Help Build a Baby’s Immune System?

A perfect blend of nutrients and antibodies, breast milk is the best source of nutrients for newborns. The first thick-yellow breast milk contains high amounts of antibodies, which help the baby fight diseases and infections. However, even after this thick milk changes its consistency, it keeps passing antibodies through breast milk to the baby as long as the mother continues to breastfeed her baby. Breast milk contains vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, and enzymes that are required for the optimal growth and development of infants and babies. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to suffer from ear infections, allergies, rashes and other such ailments in comparison to babies who are fed on formula. In fact, the antibodies present in breast milk continue to provide protection to the baby even when the baby is weaned off. No amount of formula milk can compensate for the benefits of breast milk.

Benefits of Antibodies in Breast Milk

Breast milk helps build the immune system of a baby by providing fats, proteins, and other essential nutrients and antibodies. These antibodies present in breast milk are beneficial for the mother as well as her baby. Here are some benefits of breast milk antibodies for both:

1. For a Premature Baby

A baby who is born before term, also known as premature or pre-term baby does not have a strong immune system. A premature baby is at a heightened risk of catching various kinds of deadly infections and ailments due to the underdeveloped immune system. For premature baby, breast milk is of vital importance as the presence of antibodies in the mother’s milk can help develop his immune system and help him fight bacterial infections.

2. For Daycare Babies

Sometimes parents may choose to send their babies to daycares. When a young baby goes to a daycare centre, the baby may get exposed to various kinds of germs, viruses, and bacteria that may increase his chances of catching infections and illnesses. Breastfeeding the baby can develop his immune system and help him fight various infections he might get exposed to.

3. For a Sick Mom and Sick Baby

If a breastfeeding mom gets sick, in most cases, she can continue to breastfeed her baby. If a breastfeeding mother has a common illness such as cold, cough or flu, breastfeeding your baby won’t pose any harm to him. However, if the baby gets exposed to any infection, the antibodies present in your breast milk, will get passed on to your baby and protect him. In most cases, your baby may not even catch your illness or fight it better than you.

It is very common for babies to fall sick, especially in their first year. When your baby falls sick, you should continue to breastfeed your baby. Your breast milk will not only provide nutrition and comfort to the sick child but it also contains antibodies that may help the baby to battle the illness or infection.

What Happens to the Immunoglobulin If the Breast Milk is Pumped and Stored?

Sometimes it may not be feasible for the mother to breastfeed her baby and under such circumstances, she may pump or express the breast milk and store it for later use. However, many mothers may wonder what happens to the immunoglobulins present in breast milk. Well, there is no denying that breastfeeding is the best way to transfer immunoglobulins to your baby. When a mother pumps her breast milk, there is a certain amount of germs and bacteria that may get transferred from the skin to the milk, where it is stored. However, the milk may still be fit for your baby to drink because the immune factors of the breast milk hinder the growth of bacteria or other substances that may make it unfit for consumption. Therefore, freshly expressed or pumped milk should be given to a baby. Here is what happens to immunoglobulins present in pumped breast milk:

  • If stored in the refrigerator, the breast milk may retain most of its immunity boosting properties.
  • If frozen, the breast milk may lose some of its immunity boosting properties; however, the antibodies in the breast milk may not be lost completely even when frozen.
  • If heated at high temperature, immunity boosting properties present in breast milk may get destroyed.

If you wish to pump your breast milk, make sure you express and collect it safely. If breast milk loses some of its immunoglobulins in the process it is still a better bet for your baby than formula milk.

Stored breast milk

Does Your Baby Need to Be Vaccinated If You’re Breastfeeding Him?

There is a strong connection between breast milk and immunity of a baby. However, breastfeeding is not a replacement for vaccinations. Although breast milk provides protection against various kinds of infections that a baby may be at the risk of contracting, it is not a substitute for vaccinations. There are many illnesses that a baby is at the risk of developing, for which he needs to get immunized. So, the simple answer is yes, you need to get your baby vaccinated even if you breastfeed him. Get in touch with your health care practitioner on more information on the vaccination schedule and its protection coverage for your baby.

Breast milk is the best milk for newborns and babies under 1 year of age. Apart from providing your little with antibodies, it can ensure healthy development of your baby. So, breastfeed your baby daily and spend some quality time with him.

Also Read:

Alternative Uses of Breastmilk Apart from Breastfeeding
How to Know If Breast Milk is Bad for Your Baby
Best Foods to Increase Breast Milk Supply