AsianScientist (May 27, 2013) – Breastfeeding is protective when there is an infection in mothers or babies due to the immune cells called leukocytes found in human breastmilk, says a new international study led by The University of Western Australia
The research may help to explain why babies who are exclusively breastfed have fewer infections.
In a paper published in the journal Clinical and Translational Immunology, lead author UWA’s Assistant Professor Foteini Hassiotou and colleagues show how the number of leukocytes in breastmilk changes during the course of breastfeeding as well as in response to maternal and infant infection.
The team recruited 21 breastfeeding mothers and their babies at different stages of lactation, from a few days after birth to several years into lactation. The researchers first established the normal range of leukocytes in the milk of healthy mothers and babies.
They then found that the leukocytes in breastmilk increased rapidly when either the mother or her baby had an infection and returned to normal levels when the infection was over. Remarkably, this response was also seen when only the baby had an infection and the mother was asymptomatic, reinforcing the importance of breastfeeding for the protection of the baby.