Is breastfed baby protected from flu?

The flu vaccine is recommended for all pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. The vaccine is available between September and mid-November.

Breastfeeding carries antibodies and immune-boosting properties that help infants fight illness and infection. However, flu is not passed from mother to infant through breast milk. Sick mothers can continue to breastfeed their infants and can pump and store expressed breast milk for them.

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1. Breast milk contains antibodies

When a mother comes into contact with germs, her immune system makes antibodies to fight the invaders. These antibodies pass into her breast milk and then to her infant. This protection reduces infant mortality from infectious diseases such as gastroenteritis, septicemia, ear infections and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The type of antibody in breast milk is immunoglobulin A or IgA. These antibodies are coated in a protein that protects them from acidic environments and enzymatic degradation. They coat the inside surfaces of a baby’s mouth, stomach and gut. The same type of antibodies are also found in colostrum, the first fluid that is produced soon after birth.

Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies are also present in breast milk, but they are less abundant than IgA antibodies. Studies show that breastfeeding containing IgG can help reduce the risk of infant illness from gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, including severe infections such as pneumonia.

2. Breastfeeding reduces the risk 

While the flu can be very serious for adults, it can be even more dangerous for babies and young children. Thankfully, breastfeeding can help protect newborns and infants from the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a mother’s antibodies transfer to her baby via breast milk, providing the baby with protective antibodies until they can be immunized themselves.

If a mother has the flu, it is important to continue breastfeeding because the immune-boosting properties of breastmilk are very beneficial to a newborn. In addition, if a mother is sick with a common cold or sore throat, she should keep breastfeeding. This is because most viral infections have an incubation period and the body will start producing antibodies before symptoms appear.

Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of newborns and infants contracting the flu from other sources, such as grandparents and other family members. As a general rule, infants should be kept away from people who are sick and should be washed often to prevent germs from spreading. Practicing good cough and sneeze etiquette (coughing or sneezing into a tissue that is then thrown away) will also decrease the likelihood of an infant picking up a virus from others.

During this time of year, it is recommended that all mothers receive their flu shot. The vaccine is safe for infants and pregnant women, and it helps to pass maternal antibodies through breast milk.

3. flu-related complications

Infants who are breastfed for more than 4 months have a lower risk of developing respiratory infection (e.g., sinus and ear infections, bronchitis) and pneumonia than infants who are exclusively breastfed for fewer than 4 months (28). This may be due to the protective antibodies in their mothers’ milk and the fact that they receive many more doses of these antibodies over time.

Even when the mother has flu, it is important to continue breastfeeding her infant because breast milk contains antibodies and other immune boosters that will help keep her baby safe, says Vicki Gettel, RN, a registered nurse and lactation consultant on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Allen. She advises mothers with the flu to use a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throw it away immediately, and to thoroughly wash her hands before touching the infant or anything that will touch her during feeding. If the mother cannot breastfeed directly, she should offer expressed breast milk in a bottle or with a spoon or syringe as needed.

4. reduces the risk of flu-related death

Breastfeeding also teaches infants’ immature immune systems what to look for, according to La Leche League International. Cytokines and chemokines passed to babies during breastfeeding inform their immune systems of possible threats, which improves their ability to fight infections, including flu.

While the CDC recommends that nursing mothers get their annual flu shot, it’s important for pregnant and breastfeeding women to understand that even if they catch the virus they can still transfer protection to their infants. This is because the flu is spread primarily through respiratory droplets, which can be infected by healthy people up to a day before they experience symptoms and up to a week after.

It’s often recommended that breastfeeding infants be directly fed by the mother’s breast when she is ill with the flu or another infection that can cause respiratory illness. However, if the mother is unable to directly nurse due to her illness, she can pump and provide expressed breast milk for her baby through a bottle or spoon.

Since young infants are at highest risk of influenza-related complications, the AAP urges that they continue to be breastfed even if their mothers have the flu or other infectious diseases such as pneumonia. During this time, the AAP suggests that lactating mothers who are ill with an illness cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or wash their hands frequently and discard them appropriately, and keep their infants away from them until they have recovered from their illness.

Conclusion

Breastfeeding provides some protection to a baby against the flu, but it is not an absolute guarantee. Breast milk contains antibodies and immune-boosting factors that can help the baby’s immune system fight off infections, including the flu. This passive immunity can provide some defense against flu viruses.

However, it’s important to note that breast milk does not offer complete immunity, and a breastfed baby can still contract the flu if exposed to the virus. The best way to protect a baby from the flu is to ensure that the mother and anyone else who cares for the baby is vaccinated against the flu (if eligible) and takes necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, such as practicing good hand hygiene and avoiding close contact with sick individuals.

Does breastfeeding protect my baby from the flu?

Breast milk contains antibodies and other immune-boosting factors that can help protect your baby from various infections, including the flu. These antibodies are passed from the mother to the baby through breast milk, providing some level of protection.

Is breast milk a flu vaccine?

No, breast milk is not a vaccine for the flu. It doesn’t provide the same level of protection as a flu vaccine, which is specifically designed to stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies against the flu virus.

How can I protect my breastfed baby from the flu?

To protect your baby from the flu, it’s important to take precautions such as getting yourself vaccinated against the flu during pregnancy or breastfeeding, practicing good hand hygiene, avoiding close contact with individuals who are sick, and ensuring that anyone who cares for your baby is also following these precautions.

When can my baby get a flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is usually recommended for babies starting at six months of age. However, it’s essential to consult with your pediatrician or healthcare provider for guidance on when to start the vaccine for your baby.

Can I breastfeed if I have the flu?

Yes, you can continue to breastfeed if you have the flu, as long as you take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus to your baby. Wash your hands frequently, wear a mask, and consider using a breast pump to express milk if you’re too ill to breastfeed directly.

Should I stop breastfeeding if my baby has the flu?

No, you should continue breastfeeding your baby if they have the flu. Breast milk provides essential nutrients and antibodies that can help your baby recover from illness more quickly.

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