In previous generations, many newly born babies were protected from contracting whooping cough in their first weeks by being breast fed by a mother who had had whooping cough as a child. This provided her with a rich supply of antibodies in her milk with which to feed her own baby. It also meant that she wouldn’t get whooping cough during her childbearing years and put her baby at risk. Natural immunity is usually life long.
After the widespread introduction of the DPT vaccine, a lot of children no longer had whooping cough in their early years and instead this was postponed until they went to school or until their teen years. Artificially aquired antibodies wane after a few years, leaving the vaccinated person capable of contracting the disease and this meant that new parents were vulnerable just at the time when they were bringing new life into the world.
Compounding this problem is the fact that the majority of babies are now formula fed. Although a large percentage are breast fed at birth, most are given formula milk before they reach the age of eight weeks. This means that they are denied valuable maternal antibodies that would protect them from complications of whooping cough at a time when the illness carries the most risks.
If your doctor has told you that breast feeding doesn’t protect your baby from infectious diseases including whooping cough, he obviously hasn’t read the research. Breast feeding is the single most important thing you can do for your baby’s health! Research from around the globe shows that breast milk DOES protect against whooping cough.
The Annals of Tropical Pediatrics found that breast milk contained antibodies to whooping cough, Haemophilus Influenzae B, pneumonia and meningitis.
‘Children under 2 years of age are most susceptible to acute respiratory infections caused by Bordetella pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type b, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria meningitidis. We analyzed milk samples and sera from mother-infant pairs for specific antibodies that may enhance protection against the bacterial pathogens. The results show that the breast-milk samples contained significant titres of specific IgG and IgA antibodies to the four organisms, although the mean IgG antibody levels were higher in maternal sera than in breast-milk. On the other hand, the mean IgA antibody levels to the four organisms were higher in breast-milk than in both maternal and infant sera. IgM antibodies to these organisms were relatively low or absent in many milk and serum samples. Nevertheless, the significant concentrations of specific IgG and IgA antibodies in milk samples may indicate a protective role for breast-milk against the four infections in early childhood.’
Another study in FEMS Microbiology Letters found that human breast milk inhibited the growth of bordetella pertussis but that bovine milk did not – showing what a huge disadvantage bottle fed babies have in terms of their immune defences.
‘It has been demonstrated that human milk, unlike bovine milk, can reduce the viability of Bordetella pertussis. This antibacterial activity was not due to the presence of antibiotics or antibodies in the human milk. Reducing the level of available iron or increasing the concentration of lysozyme in bovine milk did not induce anti-B. pertussis activity. Analysis of total fatty acids revealed that human milk contained significantly more linoleic acid than bovine milk. However, the addition of linoleic acid to bovine milk did not inhibit the growth of B. pertussis.’
In an animal study where mice were infected with pertussis, it was found that some colostrum could protect the mice against the affects of the pertussis:
‘Colostrum samples from Indonesian mothers were assayed for antibodies which agglutinate Bordetella pertussis and for antibodies to the filamentous hemagglutinin and the lymphocytosis-promoting factor of B. pertussis. Agglutinins were assayed by a microtiter method, and 36 of 58 samples tested (62%) had titers above 1:10. Colostrum containing anti-lymphocytosis-promoting factor or agglutinins was protective.’
And a very recent 2010 study found that antibodies in breast milk were effective against respiratory infections caused by pertussis:
‘Although acquisition of anti-pertussis antibodies by the newborn via placental transfer has been demonstrated, a subsequent recrudescence of pertussis infection is often observed, particularly in infants. The present study investigated the passive transfer of anti-pertussis IgG and IgA antibodies to term newborns and their ability to neutralize bacterial pathogenicity in an in vivo experimental model using mice intracerebrally challenged with viable Bordetella pertussis. Forty paired samples of maternal/umbilical cord sera and colostrum were obtained. Anti-pertussis antibodies were analysed by immunoenzymatic assay and by Immunoblotting. Antibody neutralizing ability was assessed through intracerebral B. pertussis challenges in mice. Anti-pertussis IgG titres were equivalent in both maternal and newborn sera (medians = 1:225 and 1:265), with a transfer rate of 118%. The colostrum samples had variable specific IgA titres (median = 1:74. Unlike samples with lower anti-pertussis titres, samples with high titres showed protective capacities above 50%. Pertussis-absorbed serum and colostrum pools protected 30% of mice and purified IgG antibodies protected 65%. Both pooled and single-sample protective abilities were correlated with antibody titres (P < 0.01). Our data demonstrated the effectiveness of anti-pertussis antibodies in bacterial pathogenesis neutralization, emphasizing the importance of placental transfer and breast-feeding in protecting infants against respiratory infections caused by Bordetella pertussis.’
So next time someone tells you that your milk isn’t good enough for your baby, tell them of all the wonderful benefits it has including shielding him from the complications of newborn pertussis.
Sources: FEMS Microbiol Lett. 1990 Aug;58(3):269-73
Ann Trop Paediatr. 1989 Dec;9(4):226-32
Infect Immun. 1985 Feb;47(2):441-5
Scand J Immunol. 2010 Jul;72(1):66-73
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting, in addition to running a charity for people damaged by vaccines or medical mistakes. Her 13 year old daughter, Jerrica, had whooping cough when she was a baby, after she was formula fed from 10 weeks.