More Than Just a Food
Breast milk has been shown to be protective against many illnesses, including painful ear infections, upper and lower respiratory ailments, allergies, intestinal disorders, colds, viruses, staph, strep and e coli infections, diabetes, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, many childhood cancers, meningitis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, salmonella, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as well as protection from Crohn's Disease, ulcerative colitis, some lymphomas, insulin dependent diabetes, and for girls, breast and ovarian cancer.
So how does this work? One way breastfeeding protects your newborn from illnesses is the immune molecules, called antibodies that are present in breast milk. Antibodies are made by your body's immune system and are very specific molecules that help you fight each illness. When babies are born, their immune systems are very immature and they have less ability to fight illness-causing germs. Through your breast milk, you give your baby immunities to illnesses to which you are immune and also those to which you have been exposed. Nursing also allows your baby to give germs to you so that your immune system can respond and can synthesize antibodies! This means that if your baby has come in contact with something which you have not, the baby will pass these germs to you at the next nursing; during that feeding, your body will start to manufacture antibodies for that particular germ. By the time the next feeding arrives, your entire immune system will be working to provide immunities for you and your baby. If you are exposed to any bacteria or viruses, your body will be making antibodies against them and these will be in your milk. Breast milk also contains a host of other immune molecules that also help protect your baby from germs. It's an awesome system!
Research shows your child's immune system will not be fully mature for many years. While it is developing, your baby will be protected by being breastfed. The child’s own immune system also develops more rapidly than does a baby’s who is fed formula.
Does this mean breastfed babies never get sick? No, they can and do. However, the illness is generally less severe and lengthy than if the baby were not receiving his mother's milk.
Breast milk is liquid gold, and it's yours to give!
Close to the Heart Vol. 11, No. 1 (Early-Year 2010)
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