As I rocked my sick little girl (not so little anymore, she reaches my waist) to sleep in our rocking chair at midnight, I was reminded of my nursing days when I would purposefully move my face closer to her germ-laden breathing so that I could catch whatever illness she had. As soon as I started feeling the onset of her cold or flu, I’d begin taking Vitamin C to boost my immune system, thereby boosting hers as well by way of my breast milk.
Nobody told me to do this, I just figured it out on my own. It made sense, I knew that a mother’s breast milk contains her individual antibodies that get passed to her infant. Julie Mitchell, an assistant professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin outlines how it works:
… when you have a cold virus, your body makes an antibody to that specific virus and the antibody helps to neutralize the infection. If a breast-feeding mother has a cold, she develops the antibody, and then when the infant gets the same cold, the infant will be less affected because he or she already received the antibody in the breast milk. Similarly, because I’ve had the flu vaccine, my infant son has some protection against the flu.
Obviously, this is a two-way street and if a mom has a serious disease, such as active, untreated tuberculosis or HIV, she shouldn’t breastfeed, according to the CDC.