The development of the immune system from fetus to neonate is a very complex yet perfectly designed process. Vaginal deliveries help baby to develop a healthy microflora by passing through the birth canal and receiving natural probiotics during that journey. Human milk for human babies helps baby develop his or her own immunity. Human milk is the optimum immune booster that the newborn should start receiving within the first hour after birth; at Lovelace we call this time the Loving Hour. NICU babies may qualify for human donor milk to support their immunity and growth. Probiotics received during delivery, and milk from breastfeeding, both work together to support baby developing their own immunity, and helps them to regulate their inflammatory response to the environment they have just entered.
Human milk is alive, complex and cannot be duplicated. Breast milk varies between women and will change according to lactation period. The first stage of breast milk is called colostrum, also known as "liquid gold." There are many health benefits for infants receiving colostrum, including prebiotic properties to help baby’s gut grow properly to support digestion and to decrease inflammation. When combined with the probiotic DNA transferred to baby during their vaginal delivery, defensive probiotic colonies are formed to protect baby from some infections. This early colonization is critical for a healthy gut which collaborates with the brain to continue immunity development.
According to Paula P. Meier, “The first 1000 days is a critical window in human development that is heavily influenced by early nutrition." These first 100 days include gestation (during pregnancy) through the second year of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive human milk feeding for the first six months and continued after the introduction of foods through the first birthday. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends infants continue breastfeeding for two years. Breastfeeding can continue well beyond these recommendations if desired.
Beneficial outcomes for term & preterm infants
• Protection against childhood diseases
• Lower risk of ear infections
• Lower risk of intestinal – diarrhea infections
• Lower risk of respiratory infections: RSV viruses - pneumonia
• Lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
• Lower risk of atopic dermatitis (skin allergies)
• Lower risk of developing diabetes (types I II)
• Lower risk obesity (childhood and adult)
• Lower risk childhood leukemia
• Positive neuro-cognitive outcomes
• Physical and emotional benefits from skin-to-skin contact
• Lower costs for family and society
Beneficial outcomes for preterm NICU babies (many of the same benefits for term babies AND the following)
• Lower risk for necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)
• Lower risk for lung infections – chronic lung disease
• Lower risk for late onset infections such as blood, cerebral spinal or urine.
• Lower risk for blinding eye disorders
• Lower risk for brain nervous system developmental problems at age 20 months.
• Lower risk of hospital readmissions after discharge from the NICU
Beneficial outcomes for the breastfeeding mother
• Less blood loss following childbirth and improved healing
• Lower risk for breast and ovarian cancer
• Lower risk for type 2 diabetes
• Lower risk of obesity
• Lower risk of hypertension (increased blood pressure)
• Lower risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol (hyperlipidemia)
• Lower risk of heart attack in mid-late adulthood
• Emotional benefits from close interaction with the infant
• Lower likelihood of experiencing postpartum depression
The health benefits and immunity support received from mother to infant during this time period extend well beyond weaning. This process lays the foundation for a lifetime of benefits for the infant and mother. For support in your own breastfeeding journey, please contact Lovelace Lactation Services at 505.727.6797 to access our New Parent Group or to schedule an outpatient appointment. Our international board-certified lactation consultants are available to support your breastfeeding journey.
Elizabeth Schmidt RN, IBCLC / Lovelace Lactation Services, Women’s Hospital
Catherine Roth, CCHW / Lovelace Labor of Love, Lovelace Health System
Kym Halliday Clear BSN, RN / Manager, Community Programs, Lovelace Women’s Hospital
Paula P. Meier, RN. PHD, FAAN Director for the Clinical Research and Lactation Neonatal Intensive Care at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Ill.