Immunity with Nutrition: The Perfect Recipe for NewbornsPrasanna Muniyappa
MBBS, MD, DNB, MRCPCH (UK),
Neonatologist & Paediatrician
As a mother, you will want to give your baby the most nutritious food available. However, when it comes to newborns, food is important not only for nutrition but also for immunity. So, which food would meet both these aims? You guessed it right, mother’s breastmilk.
Breastmilk And Nutrition For A Newborn
Mother’s milk is often referred to as the ‘perfect food’ for babies. It contains all the nutrients necessary for a baby’s healthy development. In the first few days after childbirth, breastmilk contains a high concentration of protein and minimal fat. Mature milk secreted about 20 days after delivery has a higher fat concentration.
100 ml of mature breastmilk has about 4.2 grams of healthy fats, 7 grams of carbohydrates, 1.3 grams of proteins and varying amounts of other minerals and vitamins. Lactose is the main carbohydrate contained in breastmilk. Breastmilk also plays an important role in keeping a baby hydrated.
Another reason breastmilk is important for a baby’s nutrition is because it is easy to digest. Thus, the nutrients contained in the breastmilk can be easily absorbed by the baby. This also means that breastfed babies have a lower risk of digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhea.
Breastmilk And Immunity
A baby’s immune system starts developing while he/she is still in the mother’s womb. During the third trimester, antibodies from the mother are shared with the baby through the placenta. The type of antibodies received by the baby depends on the mother’s immunity. If the mother chooses to deliver the baby naturally, good bacteria from the mother’s vaginal cavity gives the baby’s immunity another boost.
All babies are born with an immune system but this immune system is not strong enough to fight infections. Premature babies have an even weaker immune system since they have not had enough time in the third trimester to receive antibodies from their mother.
Unfortunately, the immunity which newborns are born with will slowly start to taper-off in the weeks and months following birth. The only way to strengthen a baby’s immunity is by feeding your baby immune-boosting foods. And, when it comes to immune-boosting foods for a baby, nothing compares to a mother’s milk.
Rich In Antibodies, Proteins And Probiotics
Along with nutrients, breastmilk is rich in a number of antibodies, proteins, probiotics, fats and sugars. When a mother falls sick, her body develops antibodies against these pathogens and these antibodies are passed on to the baby through breast milk. Thus, the baby gets protection against all the germs that infect the mother.
Secretory Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is the main antibody in breastmilk. Colostrum, the first breast milk secreted by a mother has exceptionally high levels of IgA. This immunoglobulin forms a protective coating over the baby’s respiratory system and intestinal tract that keeps harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi from entering the body and bloodstream. Other immunoglobulins found in breast milk are IgD, IgE, IgG and IgM.
Studies have shown that babies who are breastfed stay healthier than formula-fed babies. The antibodies present in breastmilk also help reduce the risk of allergies such as wheezing, eczema, etc. However, it is important to note that breastmilk does not protect a baby from life-threatening diseases like measles, diphtheria or polio. That is where vaccination comes in.
What If A Mother Cannot Produce Enough Breastmilk?
Ideally, a baby should be breastfed for at least the first 6 months. This ensures that your baby gets the best nutrition and develops a stronger immunity. However, in some cases, a mother may not be able to produce enough breastmilk for her baby.
In such cases, a mother has two options – infant formula and donor breastmilk. As far as possible, avoid giving your baby formula. This does not contain all the necessary nutrients, neither does it contribute towards the baby’s immunity and is difficult to digest by the immature tummies of newborns.
Our Two Cents
Donor milk refers to breastmilk that has been donated by other lactating mothers. This milk is screened for any possible infections, tested and pasteurized before being frozen. Whenever needed, the milk could be thawed and fed to your baby.
Like your own breastmilk, this donor milk is rich in essential nutrients and is very easy to digest. It contains no added preservatives or chemicals and hence is completely safe for your baby. Healthy for the baby, convenient for the mother- donor milk is the best alternative to your own breastmilk.