February 18, 2009
Debbie Page, RN, IBCLC, CEIM
All mammals have an innate code for survival: nurse your young. It is the mother's immune system that primarily protects the baby - in the womb through the placenta and then through her milk after delivery. The first year of life is the most dangerous period in a human's life. Babies come into this world with an extremely immature immune system. The newborn enters this world full of bacteria, viruses, parasites, pollen, et al and then has the task of building its own defense mechanisms in response to them. Once this is understood, you will better understand the vital role of breastfeeding in protecting the health and well being of the human race. 
Dr. Mark Cregan, a molecular biologist who founded the Lactation Biology Laboratory at the University of Western Australia in Perth, when he discovered stem cells in human milk said, "...in essence, a new mother's mammary glands take over from the placenta to provide the development guidance to ensure a baby's genetic destiny is fulfilled." This is the most significant reason why babies need human milk, ideally their mothers' own milk. Human milk provides the optimal food and through it the baby receives a large number of protective factors and signals from its mother. These provide immediate and long term health and developmental benefits. Breastfeeding or breastmilk is the baby's lifeline to building a strong immune system - one that is prepared to last a lifetime.
According to Dr. Cregan, "...many mothers see milks as identical - formula milk and breast milk look the same so they must be the same. But we know now that they are quite different and a lot of the effects of breast milk versus formula don't become apparent for decades. Formula companies have focused on matching breast milk's nutritional qualities but formula can never provide the developmental guidance."
Read full article: http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20081102-16879.html 
The problem with breastfeeding in our society is twofold: the lack of knowledge about the role of breastfeeding in the new born baby and infant and the lack of follow-up and support for women as they are learning to breastfeed. When parents understand why breastmilk is so critical to the growth and development of their baby, they will certainly choose to breastfeed. When health care professionals recognize this, they will certainly implore parents to provide human milk for their baby.
Getting breastfeeding off to a great start can make it possible for almost every mother (less than 1% of all women do not have the ability to produce a full supply of milk*) to provide ample milk for her baby or babies. Meet with a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) during the third trimester of pregnancy. Schedule a visit with the lactation consultant within 24 hours after discharge from the hospital. Continue to follow-up with a lactation consultant every 2-3 days until the baby is gaining at least an ounce a day and you are making plenty of milk. Weekly weight checks and support from other breastfeeding mothers will help you reach your breastfeeding goals.
Next in this series: How Infections Begin in the Human Body
*For mothers unable to provide a full supply of milk for their baby, I strongly suggest considering donor breastmilk-the next best thing to mother's own milk.
 (Lars A. Hanson, 2004)
 (Madden, 2008)
Lars A. Hanson, M. P. (2004). Immunobiology of Human Milk. Amarillo, TX: Pharmasoft Publishing.
Madden, C. (2008). Breast milk contains stem cells. Science Alert .