Breastfeeding and the Newborn’s Immune System

April 21, 2021
Breastfeeding is key to ensuring the proper functioning of the newborn's immune system and that they get the nutrients they need.

Breastfeeding is one of the healthiest ways to feed your baby. Numerous studies have shown that breast milk meets the nutritional requirements of babies during the first stages of life. We should also note that breastfeeding is closely related to the proper functioning of the newborn’s immune system.

Breast milk ensures proper development and growth. It could even determine the defense mechanisms of the body in later periods, therefore being a fundamental element to guarantee a good state of health.

The composition of colostrum and breast milk

Breast milk not only contains macro and micronutrients but also concentrates immunoglobulins that are transferred to the baby.

Breastfeeding during the first months of life significantly reduces the risk of developing allergies and autoimmune problems. This is due, in part, to the presence of these immunoglobulins. A study in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism reveals these findings.

A black and white image of a baby breastfeeding.
Breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs to develop properly.

Likewise, the first milk that emanates from the breast after birth, known as colostrum, contains a large amount of these bioactive compounds with beneficial properties. And not only does it contain concentrated amounts of the elements we already mentioned, but it’s also possible to find high-quality cytokines and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

To get to know more: The Effects of Omega 3 on the Brain

Benefits of breastfeeding for the newborn’s immune system

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a baby’s first 6 months. This is due to the proven benefits for the baby’s immune system, among other things.

Breastfeeding could reduce the risk of autoimmune pathologies

As we’ve already mentioned, colostrum and breast milk may be able to reduce the incidence of autoimmune problems, such as allergies. There are several studies that support this.

Ensuring the intake of this food during at least the first year of the baby’s life would decrease the probability of developing pathologies related to a malfunction of the defense system in later years.

Reduced incidence of infectious diseases through breastfeeding

What’s more, breastfeeding could produce a decrease in the risk of death from pneumonia during the first stages of life. This is evidenced by research in the journal Minerva Pediatrica.

This feeding method increases the baby’s chances of survival and protects against the development of several chronic and complex pathologies in the medium term.

Breastfeeding contributes to the strength of a newborn's immune system.
Breastfeeding requires a very specific technique, so it’s common for there to be difficulties in feeding babies this way.

Optimal development of the immune system in premature infants

One of the main problems of premature babies is that they’re born without the optimal maturation of many of their systems. As a result, this can compromise the functioning of their physiology, thus producing inefficiencies that condition their state of health.

In these cases, breastfeeding becomes even more important. According to an article in Clinics in Perinatology, breast milk may improve the efficiency of the immune system in premature infants. This, in turn, reduces the risk of developing autoimmune problems in the short term.

You may also be interested in: The 9 Most Common Allergies in Kids

Up to what age is breastfeeding recommended?

This is a topic that generates a lot of debate. Experts say that mothers should offer breastfeeding during at least the first year of life in order to experience all the benefits.

While it is true that complementary feeding can begin after 6 months of age, it’s best to continue breastfeeding for another 6 months.

However, other specialists advocate extending breastfeeding even further. However, this isn’t always possible, mainly because of the discomfort that mothers may experience, having to do with breast hypersensitivity or pain.

It’s important to note that when substituting breast milk for an artificial formula, we should pay special attention to labeling.

Many of the formulas on the market have large amounts of simple sugars in their composition, which is harmful to the baby. In addition, it’s important to make sure that your supply of unsaturated fatty acids is sufficient.

Breastfeeding promotes the development of the immune system

Breastfeeding is key to ensuring the proper maturation of the newborn’s immune system. It significantly reduces the risk of developing allergies and asthma, among other pathologies having to do with autoimmune problems.

At the same time, it increases the chances of survival and reduces the risk of contracting severe pneumonia.

At the same time, it’s important to note that breast milk is the most complete food for babies. It contains proteins of the highest quality, unsaturated fatty acids, and all the vitamins the human body needs for efficient physiological processes.

It’s true that there’s disagreement as to when to discontinue its administration. However, almost all experts agree that this shouldn’t happen before the age of one year.

  • Oddy WH. Breastfeeding, Childhood Asthma, and Allergic Disease. Ann Nutr Metab. 2017;70 Suppl 2:26-36. doi: 10.1159/000457920. Epub 2017 May 19. PMID: 28521318.
  • Gertosio C, Meazza C, Pagani S, Bozzola M. Breastfeeding and its gamut of benefits. Minerva Pediatr. 2016 Jun;68(3):201-12. Epub 2015 May 29. PMID: 26023793.
  • Lewis ED, Richard C, Larsen BM, Field CJ. The Importance of Human Milk for Immunity in Preterm Infants. Clin Perinatol. 2017 Mar;44(1):23-47. doi: 10.1016/j.clp.2016.11.008. Epub 2016 Dec 27. PMID: 28159208.