Breastfeeding for healthy immunity

by API Blog on March 4, 2015

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By Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, cofounders of Attachment Parenting International (API) and coauthors of Attached at the Heart

barbaranicholsonThe big parenting news lately centers on childhood vaccinations. It is an area of parenting that we do not take a stance on. Rather, API advocates for informed choice. We encourage parents to make careful decisions based on their own research. We know that there is no one right answer for every family, as we all have different health histories, environmental challenges and family dynamics that affect our decisions.

lysa parkerNo matter what the outcome of our choices, we can all agree on the importance of building a strong immune system for our children, and one of the best ways to do this is through API’s Second Principle of Parenting: Feed with Love and Respect — specifically breastfeeding. Breastmilk is so valuable that hospitals seek out donated breastmilk in the event that a mother cannot provide her own breastmilk to her premature or ill newborn staying in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Whether in the NICU or at home, any amount of breastmilk imparts benefits to baby.

We wanted to share some of the amazing research in the field of immunology that many parents, even if they are making the choice to breast feed, are not aware. This research is so fantastic, we hope you’ll share it with others who may be “sitting on the fence” as whether to breastfeed or not.

Even if a mother can only nurse for a few days, colostrum — the first milk — is amazing! One of our favorite resources regarding breastfeeding is La Leche League International’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which has this to say about colostrum on pages 6-7:

“Colostrum…has concentrated immunological properties that contain high concentrations of secretory immunoglobulin A, or slgA, an anti-infective agent that coats [the baby’s] intestines to protect against the passage of germs and foreign proteins that can create allergic sensitivities. [It also has] pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor (PSTI), which protects and repairs the infant intestine.”

We know that colostrum also contains white blood cells, interferon, insulin and interleukins — creating an immune system that is nearly as sturdy as an adult!

Christina PondHere’s another amazing fact, from page 382 of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding:

“Your baby not only lives on your milk, she shares your immune system. By the time you know you’re sick, you’ve started passing your immunities on to your baby…The reverse is truly remarkable. If your baby picks up an illness that you haven’t been exposed to, she passes those germs to you through nursing and within the breast itself you begin making antibodies and passing them back.”

As our babies begin to take solid foods, usually the second half of the first year, we have another opportunity to establish good health through the choices we offer our young babies and children. Avoiding sugar, sweeteners and processed foods are the best place to start. There are now organic baby foods available, and many families are joining co-ops and finding less expensive ways to find fruits and vegetables grown responsibly.

We have been amazed to see babies and toddlers eat a wide variety of healthy foods when that’s all they know! We parents must set a good example by keeping “junk food” out of sight and to work on improving habits in our own diet.

Building a strong immune system is a lifelong process, and getting our children involved in shopping, preparing and cooking meals is a fantastic way to talk about keeping a strong and healthy body, mind and spirit. We all know how much children love to help in the kitchen, so don’t lose this window of opportunity to enjoy their enthusiasm and make it fun! Some of our favorite winter memories are baking bread, making soups and healthy pancakes with our sons. Snow days were something we all looked forward to!

rising-ground-elder-1446183-mThink about planting a few vegetables with your children, even if it’s in a pot on the porch or outside a window. There’s something primal about digging in the dirt– all children love it, and it’s wonderful to have an excuse to recapture that joy! Not to mention that digging in the dirt is another way to build up immunity.

Here’s to a healthy 2015!

Editor’s note: Thank you to Christina Pond, an AP parent, for her lovely breastfeeding photo.

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APtly Said, Formerly API Speaks launched in April of 2008 as part of Attachment Parenting International's larger effort to offer interactive content through their newly-redesigned web site: http://www.attachmentparenting.org. All contributors to APtly Said, as with so many of API's staff, are volunteers who donate their time and energy to promote Attachment Parenting world wide.


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