Breastfeeding May Boost Infants' Immunity Later in Life
Breastfeeding has been touted as an excellent way to give babies the nutrients they need for development and an important part of the mother-child bond. Several governments have enacted laws to encourage breastfeeding, and many public places now offer designated nursing stations. Pre and postnatal doctor visits often include lactation coaching to encourage more mothers to breastfeed. If this wasn’t enough, new research suggests that breastfeeding infants may help to boost their immune systems down the road when they grow up.
A recent study wanted to see if the contents of an infant’s gut, including bacteria, could influence their immune system development. The gut microbiome in infants has been linked to not just this but also allergy development. The study analyzed certain environmental factors and their connection to gut microbiome content. Researchers found that infants who had been breastfed in the first six months of life had specific gut microbiome compositions that have been show to affect immune system development. Children who were not breastfed did not have these compositions. Additionally, babies who had been breastfed at one month’s age were at lower risk of pet-related allergies.
These findings correlate with further studies on what scientists call the “hygiene hypothesis,” which is the idea that early childhood exposure to certain pathogens affects the risk of diseases later in life. Dr. Christine Cole Johnson, one of the lead researchers in the study, states that the results show how a completely sterile environment is actually counterproductive for babies. She states that exposure to micro-organisms in the few first months after birth will stimulate the immune system. Another study supported this theory when researchers found that exposing babies to allergens and bacteria in the first year of life may reduce the risk of allergies and asthma later in life.