First entry: Wednesday, March 3, 2021, 11:29
Breastfeeding is known to be important for a baby’s immune development and is also associated with numerous long-term health benefits.
But researchers do not know enough why the immune system of breastfed infants is better equipped than that of commercially fed infants.
A study gives some answer. Breastfeeding is important for helping babies develop important immune cells in the first weeks of life.
The researchers examined blood and stool samples from a group of 38 healthy mother-baby couples. All babies in the study were born by caesarean section and samples were taken at birth and three weeks after birth.
The population of regulatory T cells was found to be almost double in three-week-old infants compared with formula-fed infants.
This shows that the immune system of these babies is better equipped to know which germs to attack and which ones are harmless to the body.
During pregnancy, the mother and baby’s immune system are known to interact with cells moving through the placenta. The results of the study show that their immune system continues to interact after birth through breastfeeding. This was discovered by isolating immune cells from both mother and baby, which were grown together in the laboratory.
Baby cells were less likely to “see” maternal cells as foreign if the baby was breastfed than if they were fed commercial milk – a result caused by regulatory T cells. This means that the baby’s immune system “tolerates” these stem cells from breast milk and does not cause an immune response, as it would with any other foreign cell.
Early growth of regulatory T cells is likely to be key to effective immune function in later life. This response is necessary to prevent allergies, where the immune system causes an adverse reaction to harmless substances and reduces the risk of autoimmune disorders (when the immune system attacks organs in the body).
Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March 2021, 11:29