Breastmilk, not to mention the women's bodies that produce it, is an amazing substance. A team of researchers from three universities (one was my alma mater, and another could have been my alma mater, but I turned it down) recently identified a molecule that enables mothers to pass certain immunities to their babies through their breast milk.
How Breastfeeding Transfers Immunity To Babies
ScienceDaily (Oct. 27, 2008) —
A BYU-Harvard-Stanford research team has identified a molecule that is key to mothers’ ability to pass along immunity to intestinal infections to their babies through breast milk.
The study highlights an amazing change that takes place in a mother’s body when she begins producing breast milk. For years before her pregnancy, cells that produce antibodies against intestinal infections travel around her circulatory system as if it were a highway and regularly take an “off-ramp” to her intestine. There they stand ready to defend against infections such as cholera or rotavirus. But once she begins lactating, some of these same antibody-producing cells suddenly begin taking a different “off-ramp,” so to speak, that leads to the mammary glands. That way, when her baby nurses, the antibodies go straight to his intestine and offer protection while he builds up his own immunity.
This is why previous studies have shown that formula-fed infants have twice the incidence of diarrheal illness as breast-fed infants.
Until now, scientists did not know how the mother’s body signaled the antibody-producing cells to take the different off-ramp. The new study identifies the molecule that gives them the green light....
Read the rest of the article here.