Breastfeeding and immune systems

Amanda - posted on 09/20/2011 ( 58 moms have responded )

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I know we all know that breast milk is ideally the best thing for our babies, and that it's not always possible for many woman.

I know that research shows that breastfeeding helps boost your babies immune system to give them the best start in life, but do you think that genetics can play a part in that as well????

My husband was breastfed as a baby and his immune system is absolutely appalling along with the rest of his family. Myself on the other hand was formula fed and I rarely get sick.

Both of my kids were breastfed, yet as a young infant my son had numerous URTI's and sinus infections, which my daughter seemed to have missed, although my son was breastfed for longer.

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Sarah - posted on 09/22/2011

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I totally think the benefits of breastfeeding have been blown out of proportion.
I think there ARE health benefits, but I don't think those benefits are as far reaching as people make out.

[deleted account]

Breastmilk doesn't turn a child into Superman, and formula isn't Kryptonite.



If a child is strong and healthy, formula isn't likely to do much harm in the long run.



If a child is susceptible to certain illnesses (due to genetics and/or environment), breastmilk isn't going to change that.



I think breastfeeding (especially extended breastfeeding) works in the margins. If you do have a sickly child, you're giving them the best chance with breastmilk. You don't know how much sicker they would have been without breastfeeding.



Researchers can't do a Sliding Doors type experiment on the same child. But they do have data about masses and masses of babies, and the breastfed ones are less likely to get ill, especially with certain illnesses. This is not a disputed fact.



For example, formula-fed babies are 3X more likely to get diarrhoea illnesses. Your breastfed baby getting stomach flu doesn't disprove this! And it doesn't mean your formula-fed baby will get cholera and die.



But if I were in a war-torn, post-disaster area, I would rather be breastfeeding. Maybe with our modern medical conveniences, we take this kind of thing for granted.

Vicki - posted on 09/23/2011

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As others have said, breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby, formula is merely an ok substitute. As for immunology, I went to a lecture which covered recent research by the University of Western Australia into what molecules are actually in breastmilk. There was a tonne of fascinating info at the lecture and of course I can't remember the details. Lots of stuff like... do you know that there are bone cells in your milk? The researchers don't actually know the purpose of them but they're there.

Anyway, with the immunity... being breastfed does not stop a child from picking up viruses. There are many factors that affect that, genetics, exposure etc. However it's likely that the mother will pick it up as well. Her body makes antibodies to the virus and these antibodies are passed through her milk. This may help to reduce the severity of the illness for the baby. That was the gist of it anyway.

Anecdata is all well and good, everyone knows someone whos formula fed baby was always healthy and a breastfed baby who was often sick, but data does support the reverse.

Kate CP - posted on 09/22/2011

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They are usually women in third world countries who believe the ads on TV and in the clinics saying that this formula makes your baby smarter or this formula makes your baby stronger and healthier...nothing about breast milk, though.

Kate CP - posted on 09/22/2011

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Well, speaking as a woman who has an immune disorder, struggles with her weight AND who was breastfed to about 2.5 years of age I have to say that no, breast milk will not make you superman. It won't make your baby superbaby. It will give your baby the best possible start at life, though. And it usually helps mom out, too.

Is it worth the work to nurse? Absolutely. Is it worth beating yourself or other moms up if you can't? Nope. We all do what we can for our kids.

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Merry - posted on 09/28/2011

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April I wondered about comparing me and my husbands illnesses but honestly when we catch the same stuff I always get it less severe and shorter then him. He's like sleeping all day moaning and groaning while I'm still up and doing stuff.
Yet he was nursed 2 years and I was only nursed 11 months.

My new theory,
Women have stronger immune systems then men
:D
Or men are just big old babies when they're sick
:P

April - posted on 09/28/2011

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I do think there are some immune boosting effects. There's been a few times now where both my husband and
son have been sick with the same thing, but hubby is always much sicker. i am usually the well one, so maybe our son just takes after me or he takes after me plus the the nursing helps his overall health....

Merry - posted on 09/28/2011

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Breastfeeding is nature made
Formula is man made
No matter how good a man made product gets IMO it will never be equal to good old fashioned nature made stuff
But man made stuff can come pretty close and for the general population there's little risks to formula feeding
Some babies will suffer effects of formula feeding but they aren't the majority of the population, most formula fed babies are quite comparable to naturally fed babies.

Vicki - posted on 09/23/2011

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I wouldn't use 'fast food' to describe formula. Breastmilk is much faster and portable :)

[deleted account]

Out all of the women i know who b/f my "fast food" kids are 100 times healthier and developmental wise were a lot faster than there little ones.
Would i go slapping them in the face with this info, no i would not.Although some would still insist there kids were healthier just because there b/f.

So don't go saying my kids were brought up on fast food for formula.Both my kids are the same, its nothing to do with what i gave them to drink.I just believe there naturally healthy kids.
I might just have to hit you with a tin of it, if you refer to formula as fast food.lol:-P just joken.

Charlie - posted on 09/22/2011

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Yep Kate Like the hundreds of babies that died in Africa when Nestle told the mothers it was just as good if not better then breastmilk gave them a can of formula then made them pay for the rest for which they had no money , no more breastmilk and only filthy water to put in the formula .....which they watered down to stretch it out and without the protection their brestfeeding would have provided from day to day disease babies died .... lots of them.

In our countries we are generally protected by good health, medical access and good nutrition in third world countries breastmilk and the immunity it supplies makes a world of difference ..... life or death difference.

In western countries formula is a useful and nutritional however the same cant be said for every country given their circumstances.

I think here our main issue with immunity is genetics and the over use of disinfectants.

Janice - posted on 09/22/2011

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OK, the fast food comparison may not be the best. However, I do think that there are a lot of wonderful, educated moms who think don't bother with BFing because they truly believe its equal nutrition to formula.
Example is a good friend of mine who holds a masters degree, is far from lazy and a wonderful mom. She is on blood pressure meds and was told she would have to change meds if she wanted to breastfeed. She has said many times that she didn't bother trying because formula is just as good. She went through soooo many different types of formula figuring out which wouldn't make him ill.
I agree with Kate breast milk doesn't create super babies but it does give them the best start and I its worth it.

[deleted account]

Particularly since fast food is LOADED with cholesterol and formula has no cholesterol (which is one of my big complaints about formula). The lack of cholesterol really, really concerns me from a brain-development perspective.

Kate CP - posted on 09/22/2011

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There's actually a documentary on it and the way it effects women in the Philippines.

http://www.lactivist.net/?p=988

Yes, I know it's from a lactivist site, but it's rather enlightening as to how some cultures are just bombarded with advertisement and people believe everything they see on TV!

Rosie - posted on 09/22/2011

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i'm sure that there are women out there that think formula is equal to breastmilk, but i sure as hell don't and don't know anybody who does....maybe they're like the people that complain about people saying "merry christmas" -i hear they exist....havn't ever seen one.

Janice - posted on 09/22/2011

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Yes, because genetics plays a bigger role. I was only BF 8 weeks and then formula. I can eat all I want including fast food and I am still very thin (when not pregnant) and healthy. Its just in my genes.

Also, my daughter eats fast food sometimes too. I don't think it is terrible for her in moderation. And I DO NOT think most women choose formula because they are lazy.

I do think its wrong that we have let formula companies convince us that formula is equal to breastmilk and that majority of moms do not BF because they are uninformed about many aspects of it or feel completely uncomfortable about it.

When my son is born I will have to go back to work (I was/ am a SAHM with my daughter) and I know pumping is an issue for me. It may be that I will have no choice but supplement with formula. But, formula would not be my 1st choice. The longer I am a mom the more I don't understand why people pay for a mediocre food for their infant when their body is making the perfect food for free.

I do understand that many women must use formula but many use it as a first choice for all the wrong reasons.

Sarah - posted on 09/22/2011

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This comparison of formula feeding to fast food really irks me.

It implies that mothers who formula feed are lazy and that we're feeding our kids absolute crap!!

I've brought up 2 daughters on "fast food" neither have been particularly sickly (and they both went to nursery!), neither are fat and they're both very, very bright!

So put that in your pipe and smoke it! ;)

Janice - posted on 09/22/2011

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Oh and breastfeeding is NORMAL!!! It is how human babies were designed to be fed. Yes, some women can't and babies are adopted and so formula is an okay substitute. Formula is like fast food, its better than starving and wont hurt you to eat occasionally and some will eat it everyday with no ill effects but its not very healthy either.

Janice - posted on 09/22/2011

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I think genetics plays a bigger role in immunity (and obesity) than breast milk, so some children will just be sicker no matter how they are fed. My friend didn't BF and I did yet both of our children have been quite healthy, but also neither of them are in daycare so they are also exposed to less. However, it is proven that overall BF babies are healthier, so why would you immediately put your baby at a disadvantage for no good reason.

[deleted account]

I guess its just that research who tested so many kids breast&formula feed.That research came up with the result that most of the b/f kids in that group were healthier.

We all know its not going to be as simple as every b/f kid is going to be super healthy.

My f/fed kids are super healthy and my sisters kids are not as healthy b/f and second to over 2 years, in comparison.So it works both ways.



I still believe b/m is far better and if you keep a good healthy diet yourself while b/f all the better.Its natural but as we all know its not for everyone.For many different reasons.I respect that as i have been there myself.

So much of my good healthy b/m went to waste.

:-(..but i still think i did the right thing for all involved.

:-)

Most importantly both are above average in there growth(tall) and very smart developmental wise.They have amazed the doctors and nurses.The told me on my first for a baby to only be in for common injections for the first year is very rare.She was about 3-4 when she got her first cold and i brought her in for advice.My second has onlty been in for her injections.Shes 2&half.



Hardly ever sick.A common cold maybe once a year.

So i stand by both decision's to b/f and formula feed.

:-)

Both have excellent health benefits.My f/fed kids are proof of that.

Kate CP - posted on 09/21/2011

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"It is not ALWAYS best and people putting it on a pedestal..."

Sorry, all I'm seeing is a titty on a pedestal. ;)

Sarah - posted on 09/21/2011

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In my opinion, it has more to do with genetics. Also, IMO, tired of hearing about breast being best. It is not ALWAYS best and people putting it on a pedestal and using it to build yourself up and knock others down will not increase breastfeesing rates. This is not directed at anyone in particular. Ive just seen so many breastfeesing threads lately!!

[deleted account]

Considering that my 4 MO exclusively breastfeed daughter keeps waking up do to the cold she has, I'm a little cynical of the supposed health benefits of breastfeeding. I think Lisa nailed it on the head -- breastfeeding helps the optimal development of THAT PERSON'S immune system, but beyond that, it's up to genetics and exposures. I was exclusively BF and I have severe allergies and asthma. My brother and sister were both exclusively BF as well but my sister is perfectly healthy and my brother has allergies only, which are mild. Was my mother's milk somehow deficient when she feed me? Of course not. I have four kids now and my only daughter, despite receiving the exact same diet as her twin brother, is already showing signs of allergies where her twin brother is not (e.g., eczema, rashes, etc.). I personally think the benefits of breastmilk are overstated and largely involve minor reductions in risk. It's not a miracle drug.

[deleted account]

Enfamil's ingredients: "Nonfat milk, lactose,..."
Similac's ingredients: "Nonfat milk, lactose..."
Generic formula: "Nonfat milk, lactose..."
Seeing a trend here? There are many reasons to knock formula, but the inclusion of HFCS isn't one of them.

[deleted account]

"Plus instead of being naturally sweetened, it has synthetic HFCS which has been proven to cause obesity and other health problems." Actually, that's not true, Julianne. Most baby formulas use lactose as a sweetener, which is the same sweetener in BM. For the most part, only formulas that are lactose-free or low in lactose use HFCS (although there are a few "organic" formulas that use HFCS because it's apparently cheaper than organic lactose.

[deleted account]

I did extensive research into breast milk benefits. I looked at the control factors and quite a few are extremely well put together. Although some i found bias and other conclusions are only probable and need further studies to prove. Some are pretty legit. Your going to find flaws in any study, you can't control every variable. Like anything you can't prove it 100%. Still the information available is pretty convincing that its benefits are in abundance. Its not some magic elixir that will solve any health problem. Its naturally providing an infant with the building blocks to grow to their full potential. If you have an error in the blueprint, the supplies are not going to rewrite it.

Minnie - posted on 09/21/2011

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Small correction- there aren't probiotics in formula (which are live bacteria- and which ARE found in breastmilk) but some formulas contain PRE-biotics, certain nutrients that support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut- but the formula isn't going to introduce those healthy bacteria.

Rosie - posted on 09/21/2011

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i agree with the principal of that, BUT , HFCS has only been linked to obescity and other health problems because it's in EVERYTHING we eat, and well, we eat EVERYTHING. it has the same effect on the body as sugar does though...i hate HFCS simply based on principal that it has monopolized the food industry, and uses GMO corn that has been sprayed and sprayed and sprayed with chemicals.
now adays there are probiotics in formula which i feel is a great step towards mimicking some of the benefits of breastfeeding. i'm not keen on preservatives, although they're still deemed "safe".
i actually think a lot like you with regards to it's artificial makeup compared to the naturalness of breastmilk. i just don't think that alone makes it superior. the studies done on it are crap.

[deleted account]

I have a huge problem with the ingredients and makeup of formula. I think it needs to be made to be as close to breast milk as possible and its not. By simply comparing the vitamin and mineral ratio between the two its a HUGE difference. Plus instead of being naturally sweetened, it has synthetic HFCS which has been proven to cause obesity and other health problems. Formula has not been changed for quite some time and it does need to be broken down and remade with better ingredients and a more well rounded nutritional makeup. For women who can't breastfeed, they should be able to have an alternative that is pretty close so it can offer a similar benefit.

Caitlin - posted on 09/21/2011

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In my mind it's more genetic than anything else. My first daughter was exclusively breastfed and she developped asthma symptoms at 14 months, severe food allergies (several of them - not just one) right away and horrible eczema. My second daughter, also exclusively breastfed has only minor eczema, and that's it.. I know it's rare apparently, but I think genetics plays a MUCH bigger role in a childs health than if they are formula fed or breastfed.

My kids both avoided the worst of colds though in their first year of life, an occasional runny nose, but that's all.. That was a good enoguh benefit for me..

Rosie - posted on 09/21/2011

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a lot of those things can be attributed to cows milk throughout a persons life, or even other factors. there is no firm conclusive evidence that formula caused it. these "studies" also don't take into account other factors, like diet, stress, lack of exercise-all things that influence your health more than formula or breastmilk. i don't hold stock in hardly any "study" done on breastfeeding. they're all a joke. using infants dying by injuries as an acceptable reason why formula fed infants have a slight increase in SIDS doesn't go over to well with me. what do injuries have to do with formula or breastmilk? and if it's not kids dying from injuries to prove that breastmilk is liquid gold, it's crappily controlled circumstances that can have easily a handful of other reasons why formula didn't cause that-yet it's once again tauted to be some magical elixer-WHEN THERE IS NO CONCLUSIVE PROOF.

breastfeeding is a great natural way to feed your child, and i DO feel it is better than formula. how much better is what i have a problem with.

[deleted account]

I call bs on your statement.
I have read numerous studies that prove breastfeeding helps with over all health and can prevent or reduce the seriousness of numerous illnesses. Like allergies, eczema, type 1 & 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and inflammatory bowel disease. Formula fed babies are at a higher risk of getting Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Rosie - posted on 09/21/2011

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there's actually little proof that breastfeeding helps anything more than diarrhea and ear infections. the diarrhea is waaay more common and serious in developing countries where their water supply sucks-not something to worry about to much in my country.

Lady Heather - posted on 09/21/2011

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I think it's a good thing to try because I'm sure it must help in some way, but also there are so many factors so it's not some guarantee obviously. I was breastfed and while I don't get acutely ill ever really, I have horrible allergies, frequent UTIs, eczema, epilepsy (obviously genetic) and fibromyalgia. Maybe I would be worse without the breast milk. Ha.

My daughter had 2 weeks of breast milk so she did get something. She is also a never sick kid. It kind of freaks me out because I worry she'll be like me with the somewhat over responsive immune system and react to everything one day, but maybe we've just been lucky so far.

Tanya - posted on 09/21/2011

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Anybody who thinks that breast milk is a "magic potion", is going to prevent children from getting sick, or will ensure that your child never gets any diseases, obviously doesn't understand breastfeeding. It worries me that these myths are still out there, because it's impossible to make a truly informed decision when you don't fully understand the differences between breastfeeding and formula feeding!

Tanya - posted on 09/21/2011

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Lisa Moreau, you said it best!

There is nothing extraordinary about the immune systems of people who were breastfed. They are NORMAL, nothing more, nothing less. Normal for THEM, will depend on a lot of things, including genetics and environment. If you are breastfed, but grow up in a house with smokers and never get a healthy diet, you're not going to be very healthy!

Every child is individual. Breast milk isn't going to make them superhuman, it's going to allow them to develop to THEIR top potential, whatever that may be!

[deleted account]

Genetics most definitely plays a part. However, its proven that breastfeeding does make for a better immune system. So while a non breastfed baby can have a great immune system, it would be a lot better if the baby was breastfed.

[deleted account]

i definitely think that genetics plays a part. my son doesn't get sick often and he was barely breastfed. some of the kids at his daycare that are breastfed seem to constantly be sick.

~♥Little Miss - posted on 09/21/2011

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I think genetics plays a huge role in every part of the bodies make up. If it wasn't, well, our kids would not have hair color, eye color, portions of the body you can pick out from other members of the family, and the same goes for internal make up. I have a shitty immune system. I do not have any immune difficiency disorders, but I get sick very easy. I get cronic bronchitis even when I get the sniffles. My son was BF and he is the same way. My husband has gotten a cold (if you can call a couple of sneezes and a runny nose for one day a cold) in the 11 years we have been together. My daughter does not get sick nearly as often as my son or myself. Granted, the first 3 years of his life, he barely got sick......not now though.

Tara - posted on 09/21/2011

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Oh I will add my personal experiences just cause everyone else did too!!
All 6 kids were breastfed exclusively until the intro of solid, they were then breastfed until between 2 and 2.5 years old.
Out of the 6, ages almost 2 right up to 18 years old, only three have ever been on antibiotics. And only when they were over the age of about 5. One had a staph infection in a cut., one had an ear infection and one had a throat infection.
They were all exceptionally healthy babies and toddlers, all in good physical shape with excellent motor skills etc.
So for me and my family the studies seem to be true, however I still think infant and toddler health and future health has more to do with what we put in our bodies while we are making them than what we put in their bodies after they are born.... Obviously you could eat perfect and then not feed your kid right, but that wouldn't be genetics or breastfeeding/formula feeding that determines their health, that would be bad parenting.

Tara - posted on 09/21/2011

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I believe that breastfeeding has something to do with good immune health, however I have come to agree with many scientists in their opinion that what happens "before" you are born is far more important than what happens afterwards.

Here's an excellent documentary about this theory and field of research on human health..

http://documentarystorm.com/the-nine-mon...

Karla - posted on 09/21/2011

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I want to add that breastfeeding can help with food allergies, but not with respiratory allergies and asthma.

Sarah - posted on 09/21/2011

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Well, I'm not a scientist or anything...but I think that genetics plays a MUCH bigger role in the health of a person than whether or not he/she was breastfed. And I think the environment plays a huge part, too obviously.

My son was only breastfed exclusively for maybe 2 weeks. Then he was supplemented with formula for about 6 more weeks until I went straight to formula. He's 2 years old and has only had the sniffles maybe 2 or 3 times so far...that's it. His father & I are NEVER sick. The last time I was really & truly sick with a bug was probably about 4 years ago.

My best friend is still breastfeeding her 18 month old & he has been sick WAY more than my son...bless his heart. :(

Don't get me wrong, I think breastfeeding is great...in fact, I plan on breastfeeding my next baby WAY longer than I did with my son. I just don't think that breast milk is necessarily this magical potion that some people claim it to be.

Jenny - posted on 09/21/2011

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Yes i think genetics plays a big part in this. Or the environment or something. My SIL breastfed her child well into the second year and he was with a runny nose all the time. She'd always be complaining about fevers & vomiting and sleepless nights.

My little girl was formula fed and never caught a bug that got hold of her till her first year. So explain that away. Maybe the brand of formula I was using was superior? lol

Like with everything there are more factors to why babies get sick than good immune systems. Maybe my nephew was exposed to a lot more bugs than my kids.

Karla - posted on 09/20/2011

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I think it's all very complicated and would require years of study to even come close to figuring out. I mentioned on another conversation that scientists have found that what happened to your grandparents as kids or in utero does have an affect on your body and developement -- small changes in genetics.

I would say that the comparison in your OP is formula vs breastmilk, and it seems very unlikely that formula will ever be as human specific as breastmilk. It seems more likely that breastmilk would have been tweaked by genetics and micro evolution to offer more protection rather than less.

I'm much more concerned about toxins in our food, water and air supply.

Becky - posted on 09/20/2011

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My boys were both breastfed past a year, and while they've both had colds and stomach viruses, neither of them have ever had an ear infection, severe respiratory infection, or anything that required hospitalization. (although they're still young.) They generally seem to recover pretty quickly too, except from coughs - they inherited my curse, when I get a cold, the cough lasts forever. Both my husband and I have pretty good immune systems too though, so I would imagine it's a combination of genetics and breastfeeding.

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