Breast Milk is a Mother’s Natural Means of Providing Antibodies for Her Baby
Cold and flu season is upon us. For many of us, the colder weather is here, and with the winter winds come an increase in germs. Masks are one way that we can protect ourselves and our loved ones, but what about babies who are too young to wear a mask? What are some things that we can do to boost their immune system and protect them from getting sick this year?
When moms are exposed to germs, our bodies begin to make antibodies which fight these germs. Did you know that these antibodies are present in our breast milk from day one?
Breast Milk Is Immunity in a Bottle
A mother’s body naturally contains antibodies. These are called immunoglobulins. In addition to being fun to say, these little guys are what help to prepare your little one to fight colds, flus, and more. Our milk contains these antibodies right from the start. Colostrum contains immunoglobulins called SlgA, which specifically work to form a protective barrier for your babies gut, nose, and throat.
In addition to the powerful punch breast milk packs from day one, it changes over time to meet the needs of our babies based on both their development and their environment. When a mom is exposed to a bacteria, her body immediately begins creating a defense for her baby through her breast milk.
Backed By Research
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies are breastfed exclusively through the first six months of life. Other organizations are beginning to recommend the introduction of solids earlier than six months, but these recognize the importance of continued breastfeeding for immunity as well as other developmental health factors.
Medela and other sources report that babies who are breastfed will contract less colds and other illnesses over those who are formula fed.
When Babies Are Sick
Is your little one under the weather? It’s not too late, mama. Your breast milk has exactly what your baby needs to get better and grow even stronger. Your breast milk contains antibodies and other immunological factors that can help a baby recover when they are sick. But, your breast milk changes to give your baby more of what they need.
Your body responds to your baby. Breastfeeding is a two-way communication between mom and baby. We all know that mom produces for Baby and breastfeeding or pumping delivers the milk. However the suckling of a baby, specifically the baby’s saliva, can tell your body more about what your baby specifically needs at this moment. Babies who are breastfed also tend to recover faster from illnesses than those who are not.
What if I am sick? Should I stop breastfeeding?
Not only do we worry about the presence of what is making us ill in our milk, but the close proximity to our baby can make even the most seasoned moms worry. While it sounds like a good idea to stop breastfeeding when you have a cold or flu, pediatricians actually recommend that you continue breastfeeding. Your body will provide antibodies to help protect and bolster your baby.
In fact, the CDC recommends that when a mother is too sick to breastfeed her baby she should express milk to have a caregiver feed the baby. Before breastfeeding or pumping, a mother who is ill should wash their hands. Mothers today may consider wearing a mask to prevent spreading a virus to their baby when breastfeeding.
Changes in Breast Milk
If you pump breast milk, you will notice changes over time. The color of your milk is the most noticeable. When you are sick or when your baby is sick, the color of your milk will change because your milk is changing. In fact, your body responds to what your baby needs and packs your milk with germ fighting antibodies.
When You Are Sick
Although breastfeeding your baby while you’re sick may be the last thing you’d want to be doing, it is the best thing to do to keep your baby from getting sick. You may be asking yourself, how is it possible for the baby to not get sick when he or she is near me? Well, that’s exactly the answer mama! Because the baby is in close contact with you and you are breastfeeding, your body will share with your baby the antibodies for the specific illness your body is fighting.
It is important for you to take care of yourself so you can look after your baby. Don’t forget to stay hydrated by keeping a bottle of water near you as well as some healthy snacks. Breastfeeding when you are ill can also be draining. Try to get plenty of rest.
While breastfeeding and being close to your baby is good for them, you still want to practice good hygiene when you are ill. Be sure to wash your hands, cover your mouth, and avoid coughing or sneezing near your baby. If you are taking medicine, be sure to consult a medical professional to determine whether the medicine is safe for breastfeeding moms.
When Your Baby Is Sick
Babies sometimes change the breastfeeding frequency, duration and positional preference of breastfeeding while sick. This is due to a variety of reasons such as a higher demand for fluids to a stuffy nose. Feeding on demand during this period is very important and may in turn increase your milk supply! When babies become ill, the breastmilk composition changes to meet the specific demands of the baby during that time.
In addition to antibodies, your breastmilk will contain more white blood cells than usual, this will promote healing and your body will also alter the vitamins and nutrients to meet the demands of the baby. For example, if your little one has the flu and is at risk for becoming dehydrated, your milk will change to help your baby replenish what they have lost.
Breast milk is also easier on your baby’s tummy. If your baby has an upset stomach, breast milk is easier to digest and may help them to feel better.
What About Covid?
If you have tested positive or think you have contracted Covid, consult your pediatrician. Many experts are now recommending that moms continue to breastfeed through Covid but say you should wear a mask when around your baby to minimize exposure. Experts are continuing to learn more about this virus, including its impact on mothers. To be sure that you have the most up-to-date information, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider.
What if a Mom Cannot Breastfeed?
In a previous post, we touched on some of the various reasons a mom might not be able to breastfeed. These range from physical breast conditions like elastic nipples or inverted nipples, to difficulties infants have with nursing, such as tongue tie. Other babies are hospitalized and cannot be fed around the clock by mom. In these situations, using a breast pump is a great means of providing your baby with the health benefits of breast milk.
What About the Moms Who Cannot Pump?
Moms are resilient and never cease to amaze us. Women have battled breast cancer and gone on to become mothers. Others still face more health issues that limit or eliminate their ability to pump for their babies. These moms are not out of luck. With the new research on breast milk, the improvements in breast pumps, and the shared knowledge, moms are now donating their breast milk to donation banks. Breast milk banks and donation centers are being set up all across the country.