Vaccines photo

There’s now another reason for new moms to treat themselves during breastfeeding: their milk will be hard at work as a teacher. Mothers’ breast milk teaches babies’ developing cells to defend against infection, according to new research led by University of California, Riverside.

“It’s like vaccinating the baby without actually vaccinating the baby,” lead researcher Ameae Walker said in a UCR news release. This “maternal educational immunity” transfers immune cells from the mother into the milk, which then makes its way to the thymus through digestion. These cells teach baby cells to develop immunities to whatever organisms the mother been exposed. These cellular lessons are carried throughout life.

Walker sees this as a way to get babies protected against infections that are sometimes too dangerous to vaccinate against in infancy. By boosting mom’s vaccination during pregnancy, her milk will be super-charged for when the baby arrives. With some diseases like tuberculosis, immunity through milk is even more effective than through a vaccine given to the baby.

The study is published in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of Immunology