Did you know your baby receives antibodies and good bacteria (popularly referred to as probiotics) from you during pregnancy and birth? As you grow your sweet babe, you are also growing her gut, which makes up nearly 80% of her immune system.
According to current research, her immune system will continue developing until she is five or six years old. No wonder the World Health Organization recommends nursing “until two years and beyond!” The passing of antibodies from mother to baby does not stop at birth—breastmilk is full of them!
Please Don’t Kiss the Baby, Unless You’re Her Mama
Without diving too deep into the science, the role antibodies play in the overall composition of breastmilk really is incredible. A human makes antibodies to a threat they encounter in their environment, and since ideally a newborn baby is with her mother nearly all of the time, that means the baby takes in the exact antibodies she needs to ward off any potential infection or illness.
So, you know that overwhelming urge you have to smell and kiss the top of your baby’s head? It’s a natural protective mechanism, mama bear! When you take in whatever harmful bacteria your infant may have been exposed to, you are filling your milk with exactly what she needs to prevent actually contracting the illness.
Healing and Sealing the Gut
When your baby was first born, you probably noticed the first milk you made wasn’t very milk-like at all but instead more like thick, sticky water. This is called colostrum, and it plays a vital role in the process of sealing your infant’s gut lining, which keeps unwanted pathogens and food particles from making their way into places they shouldn't be. Your milk is medicinal from that very first latch!
Put Your Breastmilk On It
Clogged tear duct? Scratch on face? Sore ear? If you’ve been a part of a breastfeeding community like La Leche League, you’ve probably heard, “Put your milk on it,” more than once. While it may sound kind of weird to the general public, it makes sense! As we discussed above, your breastmilk is full of antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds that can be used as remedies both internally and externally!
Breastfeeding Protects from Illness
Because a mother makes antibodies specific to her environment and these antibodies go straight into her milk, nursing on demand (which typically means incredibly often in those first few months!) is the very best thing a mama can do to protect her infant from coming down with whatever illness is going around.
This goes for when a breastfeeding mama is sick, too! There is a common belief that a mother with a cold or the flu should stop nursing until she is better, but the opposite is actually true. Baby is likely already exposed before her mama began showing symptoms of illness, and breastfeeding will fill her gut with the exact antibodies she needs to fight off the bug.
Your body is amazing, mama. Nurse on! Let your love and your milk flow!