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Breast Milk: Fights Off Infection While Feeding Babies

Posted: 05/26/2013 10:20 pm

Back in the 1980s, before the ever-popular Got Milk campaign, the milk industry focused on the benefits of milk consumption in children and adolescents with an advertising blitz featuring the slogan, "Milk: it does the body good." Even today, the milk industry continues to promote milk, especially lactose free varieties, as a healthy choice for the adult body. But milk cannot be given to the youngest amongst us, infants and toddlers. The components are simply not as well tolerated and can lead to deficiencies.

Yet, there exists a milk alternative for these youngsters that could advertise itself using a similar slogan: "Breast Milk: it does the baby good."

The promotion of breastfeeding is a major focus of international attention and for good reason. Studies in the last 20 years have revealed that breast milk can help to reduce inflammation, help to develop the immune system and even form a proper microbiome. Now this week, a team from The University of Western Australia published a paper that revealed how breast milk is not only a great source of nutrition, but also may help to fight off infections. The study also opened the door to an interesting revelation of how germs can help the baby develop properly.

The team, led by Dr. Foteini Hassiotou explored the immunological nature of breast milk when both mother and infant were healthy, as well as when one or the other was suffering from an infection. They found that the immune cells, known as leukocytes, tended to be low in breast milk during healthy times, but surged in number when either the mother or the infant suffered from an infection. In a related study last year, a group out of the Bnai Zion Medical Center in Israel found similar increases when only infants were infected.

The results by themselves may seem unremarkable. But, when combined with other information revealed this year concerning the nature of milk during maternal infection, an unperceived quality of breast milk is revealed.

Several infections can occur in the mother during breastfeeding ranging from simple gastrointestinal discomfort to more serious infections, including mastitis. This systemic infection of the mother is common and can leave the mother with flu like symptoms as well as exhaustion. A team of researchers from Showa University of Medicine in Tokyo, and another from The University of Idaho, studied the composition of breast milk during this infection and found that it changed dramatically. While much like Hassiotou's findings, there was an increase in immunological molecules, there was also a change in nutritional content, with higher levels of sodium and fats. When the infection was treated, the milk returned to normal. In essence, the baby was given the opportunity to react to an infection without actually being afflicted by one.

Together, the findings of these studies show that breast milk, in addition to being a source of nutrients, also acts as both sentry and drill sergeant for the developing immunological army in the child. If there is an infection in the baby, the breast milk acts to prime an immune response and help to fight off any intruders. But when the mother is infected, breast milk helps to prime the infant by providing a 'dry run'. The mother battles while the baby learns.

While breastfeeding continues to gain scientific backing, this does not mean that it is the only choice. Thanks to the research that has taken place, there are great advancements in the use of donor milk and formula to ensure the health of the growing infant. One study showed the use of normal human milk in very low birthweight infants was actually inferior to the use of formula and donor milk. Another investigation found that both donor milk and formula have the ability to help both fight off infections and also improve proper growth.

These advances are well needed as pointed out in a recent polling of New York City women who were asked about their opinions on breastfeeding. Only 46 per cent of them intended to exclusively breastfeed; a rate that is similar to other areas of the world.

The debates over how best to feed an infant have been ongoing for decades and there may never be an end. Yet, the more we learn about the complexities of human milk and the breastfeeding practice, the more we can develop novel and more effective means to mimic this as best as possible. In this way, regardless of the feeding means, babies will grow up as healthy as possible.

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  • At A Middle School

    When <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/18/school-principal-gives-letter-breastfeeding-mom_n_5600505.html" target="_blank">Andrea Scannell</a> took her children to eat at a summer lunch program at Mount Logan Middle School in Utah, she decided to nurse her infant while there. Before leaving, a school employee handed her a complaint letter from the principal, which went viral after her husband <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/2aw6ob/my_wife_was_handed_this_formal_complaint_about/" target="_blank">uploaded a photo of it to Reddit</a>. The letter asked Scannell to "discretely feed the baby, whether with a small blanket or in a more private area while the lunch program is taking place." After garnering a lot of online support, Scannell organized a nurse-in at the school.

  • At An Amusement Park

    Renee Villatoro was nursing her baby at the Kentucky Kingdom amusement park when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/18/kentucky-kingdom-breastfeeding_n_5591909.html?utm_hp_ref=breastfeeding" target="_blank">an employee told her to move to the bathroom</a>. After the incident, she and her fellow mothers' support group members flooded the park's Facebook page with comments and questions about its breastfeeding policy.

  • At Walmart

    Employees at a Walmart in Greenville, SC verbally harassed and mocked Shawnee Colabella when she nursed her child in the store. When the mother told her breastfeeding support group about her experience, the members of the Facebook group "Upstate SC Breastfeeders" <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/09/breastfeeding-group-plans-walmart-nurse-in_n_5570535.html?utm_hp_ref=breastfeeding" target="_blank">organized a nurse-in</a>.

  • At A Homeless Shelter

    When Karen Penley tried to nurse her son in the Oahu homeless shelter Institute For Human Services, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/01/homeless-mom-faces-discrimination-for-breastfeeding_n_5548351.html" target="_blank">a worker reportedly told her to either cover herself or relocate</a>. Penley described the exchange to <a href="http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/25901442/homeless-mother-fights-to-breastfeed-in-public" target="_blank">HawaiiNewsNow</a>: "He's like, ‘You must cover to nurse your baby.' And I was like, ‘I have the right not to cover.' And he goes, ‘I have the right to refuse services.' In other words…kick me out, make me leave."

  • On Twitter

    When Karlesha Thurman posted a photo of herself breastfeeding during her graduation from The California State University, Long Beach on social media, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/09/mom-shamed-by-internet-for-breastfeeding-at-graduation_n_5474420.html" target="_blank">she received a lot of negative comments on Twitter</a>.

  • At Bob Evans

    Kristina Gray was breastfeeding her son while waiting to be seated at a Bob Evans in Tampa, Florida. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/06/bob-evans-breastfeeding-apology_n_5460744.html?utm_hp_ref=breastfeeding" target="_blank">A female employee approached her and asked her to cover up.</a> After the incident, Gray posted her complain on the restaurant chain's Facebook page and organized a nurse-in.

  • At Victoria's Secret

    While at a Victoria's Secret in Texas, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/16/victorias-secret-breastfeeding-mom-_n_4611310.html?utm_hp_ref=breastfeeding" target="_blank">Ashley Clawson</a> asked an employee if she could nurse her child in a dressing room. She was not only denied, but directed to go to the nearest alleyway.

  • At Hollister

    Brittany Warfield, a mother of three from Texas, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/hollister-nurse-in_n_2425541.html" target="_blank">was nursing her 7-month-old outside of a Hollister store in a Houston mall, she says a manager forced her to move</a>. “He said, ‘You can’t do this here. This is not where you do that. You can’t do that on Hollister property. We don’t allow that.’ I said, ‘It’s Texas. I can breastfeed anywhere I like.’ He said, ‘Not at Hollister. Your stroller is blocking the way. You have to go,’” she recalls.

  • On Facebook

    Mom and breastfeeding advocate <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/12/emma-kwasnica-breastfeeding-mom-facebook_n_1203198.html" target="_hplink">Emma Kwasnica</a>had posted over 200 photos on Facebook of herself nursing her own three children and told the Huffington Post that her account has been suspended at least five times as a result. She organized a nurse-in in front of Facebook headquarters to challenge the company's policy that says photos depicting breastfeeding are "inappropriate."

  • At Target

    Houston mother Michelle Hickman says she was <a href="http://www.bestforbabes.org/target-employees-bully-breastfeeding-mom-despite-corporate-policy" target="_hplink">harassed and humiliated by Target staff </a>when she found a quiet space in the store to breastfeed her infant. She organized an international "nurse-in" at several Target locations on Tuesday December 28th. Pictured above is mom who participated, Brittany Hinson and her 4-month-old son, Kennedy, in front of the Super Target store, in Webster, Texas.

  • At A Cafe

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/breastfeeding-flash-mob_n_1153963.html?ref=parents" target="_hplink">Claire Jones-Hughes wrote</a>: "After being verbally attacked for not covering up while feeding my four-month-old, I decided it was time to make a statement to show that mothers will no longer tolerate being harassed for feeding our babies in public." She then staged a breastfeeding flash mob at the Clock Tower in Brighton, UK.

  • In A Government Building

    Simone dos Santos was breastfeeding her four-month-old in the hallway of a D.C. government building when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/14/simone-dos-santos_n_1148455.html#s542782&title=McDonalds_" target="_hplink">two female security guards told her to stop</a> because it was indecent. "I was shocked, upset and angry that by providing food for my son, I was being treated like a criminal," she wrote in a blog post for the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/dc-guard-no-breastfeeding-in-public/2011/12/12/gIQA2xYvtO_blog.html" target="_hplink">Washington Post</a>.

  • In The Courtroom

    In November, Natalie Hegedus, a Michigan resident, was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/14/natalie-hegedus-courtroom-breastfeeding_n_1089271.html" target="_hplink">asked to leave a courtroom</a> by a district judge. Her post on the community forum, <a href="http://community.babycenter.com/post/a30189175/bf_inappropriate_judge_thinks_so" target="_hplink">BabyCenter</a>, caused a national uproar.

  • In Another Courtroom

    In August 2010, Nicole House was asked to leave the courtroom because a bailiff noticed her breastfeeding.

  • On A Bus

    This past June, a mom was <a href="http://blogs.babycenter.com/mom_stories/07052011breastfeeding-mom-harassed-on-city-bus/" target="_hplink">harassed by a bus driver</a> for breastfeeding on a Detroit-area bus.

  • On A Plane

    Back in 2006, 27-year-old mom, Emily Gillette, was <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15720339/ns/travel-news/t/woman-kicked-plane-breast-feeding-baby/#.Tr2Eh1ZSmGg" target="_hplink">removed from a Delta flight</a> for breastfeeding. Watch a news clip about this story <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0r6gbJpc18" target="_hplink">here</a>.

  • At The Mall

    Ohio mom Rhonda claimed that she was <a href="http://consumerist.com/2011/02/woman-says-mall-made-her-leave-for-breastfeeding-in-public.html" target="_hplink">kicked out of her local mall</a> for breastfeeding, back in February. Mall security even called for back-up.

  • At The Pool

    We've heard about <a href="http://blogs.babble.com/strollerderby/2011/07/21/mom-asked-to-leave-ymca-pool-while-breastfeeding-it-made-others-uncomfortable-and-breastmilk-is-considered-a-contaminating-bodily-fluid/" target="_hplink">these incidents</a> from coast to coast. In 2001, a mother nursing her 9-month-old was told to <a href="http://www.komonews.com/news/archive/4015441.html?tab=video" target="_hplink">move away from the edge of the pool</a> so as to avoid contaminating the water with her breast milk.

  • In Her Religious Community

    One mom <a href="http://www.mothering.com/community/t/567001/basically-forced-out-of-church-for-breastfeeding" target="_hplink">posted a frustrated essay</a> in November 2006, detailing her pastor telling her that photos of her breastfeeding were equivalent to pornography. She and her husband decided to leave the church after this incident.

  • At McDonald's

    Clarissa Bradford was <a href="http://www.abc15.com/dpp/news/region_phoenix_metro/north_phoenix/nursing-mother-kicked-out-of-mcdonald's" target="_hplink">kicked out of a McDonald's</a> by an assistant manager for breastfeeding her 6-month-old child in August 2010.

 

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