While most of mothers see breast milk as just food for the baby, it is actually not so; breast milk offers much more to your baby than nutrition. The amount of protection it offers your baby against diseases is the reason breast milk is termed “the first vaccine”.
To begin with, the first milk, known as colostrum, is usually bright or almost deep yellow, indicating its high content of Vitamin A, a nutrient that is well-known for its ability to strengthen the immune system and offer protection against diseases even long after the baby outgrows breastfeeding. This prevents common but serious childhood illnesses like pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis and whooping cough.
Through breast milk, the mother’s antibodies are passed to the baby. These antibodies are the body’s defence against disease and infection. A new born’s immune system isn’t effective in fighting infection, therefore these antibodies from the mother are very vital if the baby is to be able to fight infection. Long-term breastfeeding offers antibody boost for longer, thus protecting the baby for longer.
Breast milk encourages the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut through the prebiotics that it has. These prevent the growth of disease-causing bacteria in the baby’s system and also helps prevent diarrhoea, which is a major cause of childhood deaths.
Breast milk also contains a component called Immunoglobulin A (IgA), a substance that coats the lining of the baby’s premature intestines, thus preventing the leakage of foreign foods into the bloodstream, hence reducing the risk of developing allergies. Research has actually shown reduced rate of milk allergy in babies who are exclusively breastfed.