South Africa: Breastmilk protects babies against infection for life

05 July 2019

A mother’s milk can provide lifelong immunity against illness, new research funded by the University of Cape Town and other organisations has shown.


Research in mice published in Science Advances found that the transfer of immunity can go beyond the period of breastfeeding.

Unexpectedly, it also found that this protection was driven by the transfer of immune cells in the mother’s milk, completely independent of antibodies.

The research found that infant mice breastfed by a mother who had a worm infection before becoming pregnant acquired lifelong protection against this infection.

Lead author Dr William Horsnell, who worked with research partners in the UK, Belgium, Germany and the US, said: ‘This is the first demonstration that infection prior to pregnancy can transfer lifelong cellular immunity to infants. This is remarkable and adds a new dimension to our understanding of how a mother can influence our health.’

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