The simple reason why breastfeeding is NEVER a substitute for vaccination

antibody

I’m going to lead this piece with the “money quote” so if you read nothing else you’ll read this:

Breastfeeding can NEVER be a substitute for vaccination for a very simple reason: maternal antibodies to vaccine preventable diseases CAN’T be passed via breastmilk.

Why?

Maternal antibodies to vaccine preventable diseases are not and CANNOT be passed via breastmilk.

The immune system makes different types of antibodies (immunoglobulins) labeled alphabetically. Immunoglobulin A (IgA) can be passed through breastmilk. IgA can protect against colds and diarrheal illnesses but NOT other illnesses.

The antibodies that fight vaccine preventable diseases are IgG. Vaccines stimulate the production of IgG. IgG can be passed across the placenta but CAN’T be passed in breastmilk. So babies can be born with some immunity to vaccine preventable diseases, but that immunity immediately begins to wane. It is not replaced by breastfeeding because there is no IgG in breastmilk.

Why do anti-vaccine parents think breastmilk is a substitute for vaccination?

According to Martucci and Barnhill, it is because we have over-emphasized the “naturalness” of breastfeeding.

InUnintended Consequences of Invoking the “Natural” in Breastfeeding Promotion in the journal Pediatrics they claim:

Medical and public health organizations recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed for at least 6 months. This recommendation is based on evidence of health benefits for mothers and babies, as well as developmental benefits for babies. A spate of recent work challenges the extent of these benefits, and ethical criticism of breastfeeding promotion as stigmatizing is also growing… Promoting breastfeeding as “natural” may be ethically problematic, and, even more troublingly, it may bolster this belief that “natural” approaches are presumptively healthier. This may ultimately challenge public health’s aims in other contexts, particularly childhood vaccination.

Martucci and Barnhill have focused on an important issue. However, it seems to me that it isn’t merely the naturalness of breastfeeding that has emboldened anti-vax parents to insist that vaccination isn’t necessary for breastfed babies. They’ve been emboldened by irresponsible claims of specific immunological benefits of breastfeeding.

For example, the Baby Friendly Hospital Iniatitive claims:

Human milk provides the optimal mix of nutrients and antibodies necessary for each baby to thrive.

That’s utterly FALSE. Breastfeeding CAN’T provide antibodies for vaccine preventable diseases.

Claims about the immune benefits of breastfeeding are often utterly irresponsible.

Writer Angela Garbes claimed in In The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am:

According to Hinde, [Katie Hinde, a biologist and associate professor at the Center for Evolution and Medicine at the School of Human Evolution & Social Change at Arizona State University] … If the mammary gland receptors detect the presence of pathogens, they compel the mother’s body to produce antibodies to fight it, and those antibodies travel through breast milk back into the baby’s body, where they target the infection.

That’s pure speculation on Hinde’s part, as she later acknowledged in a public Twitter conversation with me.

I agree wholeheartedly with Martucci and Barnhill’s claim that touting breastfeeding as natural has serious unintended consequences (like maternal guilt for women who don’t breastfeed). Nonetheless, I suspect that it is the specific irresponsible false claims made by lactivists about the immunological benefits of breastfeeding that have led anti-vax parents to believe that breastfeeding is a substitute for vaccines.

We should think carefully before we tout breastfeeding as superior because it is natural, but it is even more important to hold lactivist organizations to account for all sorts of false claims, including immunological claims. In countries with reliable clean water supplies, the benefits of breastfeeding for term infants are limited to a few less colds and episodes of diarrheal illness across the entire population of infants (because of IgA in breastmilk). That’s it. Claims of other benefits are based on scientific evidence that is weak, conflicting and riddled with confounders. And in many cases, even that weak evidence was debunked long ago.

The key point, though, is that breastfeeding is NEVER a substitute for vaccination because IgG (the antibodies produced by vaccination) can’t be passed in breastmilk.

It’s just that simple.

  • sfhldl

    I think the gist of this is true (that breastfeeding is not a substitute for vaccination) but for largely the wrong reason.

    We absolutely do produce IgA for diseases we vaccinate against. For instance, chicken pox, here is a paper on IgA levels: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC272858/ Both IgA and IgG are produced: http://cvi.asm.org/content/16/4/484.full

    The main reason IgA in breastmilk it is not effective at preventing chickenpox in children is because antibodies are only produced in great quantity in the mother’s breastmilk when the mother is infected with the disease. But mothers aren’t passing chickenpox to their children- other children are. In fact, most childhood illnesses we vaccinate against are acquired from *other children*, not the mother. The mother won’t start producing antibodies until they’re exposed to viral particles shed from the child, at which point the child is *already* infected. Antibodies in breastmilk are most effective at preventing or lessening illness transmitted from mother to child.

  • Terp

    Thank you!! I’m an interpreter, and I interpreted an immunology class a few years ago, and when they learned about antibodies in breast milk (only IgA, not IgG or IgM), I thought I had misunderstood, because I wasn’t seeing that information anywhere in breastfeeding conversations online. Everyone takes for granted the “antibodies in breast milk” thing, and a google search of “which immunoglobulins pass through breast milk” didn’t give me the hard hitting, lay-person-friendly description I needed.

  • Bugsy

    Thank you. We got home yesterday from having spent the past 3 days in the hospital; our 3-year-old was admitted for pneumonia caused by RSV. His 4-month-old brother now has RSV, but thankfully it hasn’t turned into pneumonia for him.

    Watching my son struggle to breathe, watching him lay lethargic in a hospital bed while we waited for the antibiotics to take effect…we kept thinking of people who willingly choose to see their kids struggle against illnesses that can be prevented by vaccines, all in the name of “natural” antibodies.

    I. can’t. even.

    • sfhldl

      You’ll be interested to know they’re starting trials for pregnancy vaccinations for RSV now! http://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/rsv

  • Margo

    Dr Kitty, is the shingles vaccine free in the Uk I for over 70’s. We have a big push/roll out here in NZ for Pertussis and also older adult shingles vaccine. A charge does apply.

    • Yes it’s free for those in the target group.

  • MaineJen

    Thank you!!! A lactivist once told me I didn’t need to worry about my young baby catching something from an unvaccinated child, because I was breastfeeding and “she was getting antibodies from me.” Headdesk.

  • Dr Sarah

    Also, please don’t forget the other important way in which it fails to substitute for immunisation: Breastfeeding, unlike vaccination, provides only *passive* immunity. In other words, it passes ready-made antibodies over instead of stimulating the body to produce its own.

    This is the immunological version of ‘Give a man a fish…’ Fine while the child is still getting the antibodies, but, once breastfeeding stops and the antibodies stop coming, the child is left without defences, because s/he doesn’t have any immunity of his/her *own* to the disease. A vaccinated child, on the other hand, has learned how to *make* those antibodies, and will therefore have long-lived immunity.

  • Tokyobelle

    OT: Took my boy to get his 2 month immunizations Monday, and he slept all day Tuesday. Of course as soon we went to bed for the evening, he woke up and was up for 4 hours! Gah. Thanks immunizations! /s

    • Erin

      My son had his MMR yesterday afternoon. He slept wonderfully. My husband and I spent most of the night staring at him sleeping and checking his temperature. He’s now raring to go but I feel like a zombie and have already acquired two vaccine related injuries.. one from dropping a ladle on my foot and one from smashing my knee off the edge of the wardrobe both caused by extreme tiredness.
      Oddly enough he screamed more at the indignity of having to sit naked on the scales than at having 3 needles stuck into his little thighs in quick succession.
      (Not usually that paranoid but I had febrile convulsions after my measles jab and my Mother terrified me with her graphic descriptions).

      • Mike Stevens

        Yup, definitely VAERS material!

    • Mike Stevens

      I suggest you submit a VAERS report!

  • momofone

    OT–As my almost-nine-year-old and I were getting out of the car a few days ago, he said, “Mom, what’s the way I was born called again?” I said c-section. He said, “Well, I think that’s why I’m having trouble with division. My brain didn’t get squeezed enough to do quick division.”

    • Who?

      Where did that come from? What an extraordinary thing for someone to have said to him.

      One of the many awful things about it is that he might decide that if this is true, there’s no point trying, since his future is defined by this one event.

      Someone earlier mentioned people saying the 11 year old must have been breastfed because she never seems to get sick. Parenting has got very long-term judgemental over the last decade or so.

      • momofone

        I’m pretty sure this is something he came up with (more as a reason not to have to do division than as a political statement 🙂 ). A couple weeks ago he saw my scar and it kind of renewed his curiosity, so we’ve been talking about how different babies are born and why/why he was born by c-section. He was pretty horrified at first when he realized lots of babies are born vaginally, and therefore “all squeezed up.”

        As for division, it must be done, c-section and all. 🙂

        • BeatriceC

          Tell him that one of your internet acquaintances was born by c-section and managed a master’s degree in mathematics.

        • Who?

          Smart boy-though not as smart as his mother!

          My kids were horrified at coming out the old fashioned way, both thought the little cut might be a whole lot tidier!

          He’ll get the division in the end, I did…

  • VikingAPRNCNP

    I took great pleasure posting this on tenpennys web of delusional deceit.

  • VikingAPRNCNP

    Thanks for posting this highly sensible discussion.

  • BeatriceC

    OT Update: The regular doctor agreed that the cough was concerning enough to justify the pertussis test, though he’s a lot better today than yesterday. It takes about 24 hours for the results. So far nobody else is sick.

    Semi-On Topic: Several years ago I allowed middle kid to spend a summer with my parents. This was during a time when I was overwhelmed dealing with surgical issues with the other two, and obviously before I cut my parents off. Anyway, things were really crazy and I didn’t realize until after he had already left that he needed several vaccinations for school in the fall, and I wouldn’t have much time after he got back. My parents offered to take him to their pediatrician and pay for it. I accepted the offer. I’ve found out that this pediatrician has gone full-scale anti-vaxx, like Dr. Sears type anti-vaxx and didn’t actually give him the shots, even though the records given to the schools say that he had them. This wasn’t a super young kid; it was the summer before middle school . I have no reason to disbelieve my kid, especially since he brought it up because he was concerned that he wasn’t protected against something he should be. He’s all caught up now, but I’m just gobsmacked that a doctor would be willing to falsify records like that.

    • Mishimoo

      That is ridiculous! Sadly, not surprising since my best friend’s family of origin go to a doctor with similar views. Unfortunately they’re out there and they should be relieved of their licenses, along with being barred from providing medical advice.

    • Dr Sarah

      Oh. My God. That is FRAUD. Utterly inexcusable and outrageous.

  • FrequentFlyer

    Lactivists/ all nacherul types would hate this.

    • Margo

      Haha that’s funny.

    • monojo

      They don’t eat french fries! They eat avocado fries cooked in coconut oil. What, do you think they’d poison their children with white potatoes?? For shame!

  • FrequentFlyer

    Lactivists would never be so practical or relaxed.

  • Margo

    Interesting reading. Also I found this interesting: http://www.medscape.com “Breast Milk: Proactive Immunomodulation and Mucosal Protection against Viruses and other Pathogens.

  • Brooke

    Since when did facts become so political? Breastfeeding IS natural, breasts aka mammary glands usually start producing milk after a person has a baby. Breastfeeding is natural in the same way water is wet, the sky is blue, etc. To say otherwise is just outrageously ridiculous as is the idea that calling breastfeeding “natural” is causing people to become skeptical of vaccines. No doubt there is some overlap here. However breastfeeding initation rates are 80% the percentage of parents who request a non-medical vaccine exemption which includes parents who skip or delay some but not all vaccines is less than 2%. Maybe instead of assuming why parents are not vaccinating their kids people could ask them? Oh. I guess that is kind of hard when in reality there are not that many to ask.

    • CSN0116

      I’m glad you agree that people who believe that breastfeeding is natural enough to forego vaccines are ridiculous. Because they are fucking ridiculous.

      And they ARE real people, Brooke. Anti-vaxxers are absolutely stupid enough to simultaneously buy into these ideologies. I’m not sure why you find the parallel ridiculous. They openly blog about it themselves.

      Oh, and I’d venture to guess that over 95% of that “2%” of non-vaxxers (which is much higher in certain parts of the US) are in fact breast feeders. I have never met an anti-vaxxer who wasn’t a lactivist. You, Brooke, are openly an anti-vaxxer AND a lactivist. Well I’ll be – there’s my N of 1 right there 😉

      And P.S. read the fucking study. It would clear some shit up for you.

    • Amy

      You’re not very good at reading comprehension, are you? Dr. Amy didn’t say breastfeeding wasn’t natural. She said using the “naturalness” of breastfeeding as a way to promote it led to problematic misconceptions, by implying that natural automatically means better, when it obviously doesn’t.

      Why don’t you look at the numbers the other way? What percentage of anti-vax parents initiate breastfeeding?

      • Margo

        A bit like herbs are natural, so people take all sorts of herbal remedies, without, I suggest, realising that some herbs for some people are not very useful at all, especially within pregnancy, but because they, the herbs, are promoted as natural people think no harm can be done. WRONG.

    • momofone

      I’m not sure what point you think you’re making about “natural,” or about “facts.” Natural does not equal safe or superior. People develop “natural” cancers every day. “Usually” is the smartest word in your whole post.

    • LibrarianSarah

      Yes breastfeeding is natural. So is poison ivy. I suggest you try rubbing some on your genitals.

    • Azuran

      Lactivist made it political when they started shaming women who formula fed and tried to prevent them from making their own decision.
      Sure, breastfeeding it natural, but people who are promoting it as such are not doing it because it’s ‘fact’. They are doing it because they know calling something ‘natural’ makes people feel it is automatically better. They are doing it on purpose to make themselves feel better and make formula feeder feel bad.

    • Who?

      Perhaps if you used a semi-colon after ‘80%’ your point would be less obscure.

      Vaccine refusal is interesting-lots of people are asking vaccine refusers about their choices.

      Sometimes it is just to do with people on the move-for instance, when we moved from the UK to Australia we had to bring the kids’ vaccinations into line. Which meant saying no to some they’d already had, having catch ups for those they’d not yet had on the UK schedule but would have had if they’d been here, and setting up a program for the rest. Took about half an hour to sort out for two kids, we did it before the older one was off to kindergarten.

      Sometimes people have bought into the idea that natural will do the trick, because, you know, they are lucky people and why would that change? And there’s always a big shiny hospital up the road to which their sick child can be taken and hopefully rescued if the first line of luck runs out. Turns out this group become more anti-vax the more educated they become about vaccination. Dumb, hey?

      And then there are the ones who know better than medical
      professionals, pick and choose, mess with the order, etc, etc. Control freaks.

      And some lovely folks decide that their special children will hide in the herd. This lot belong in a circle of hell reserved for users and takers, which is what they are.

      • Chi

        Not to mention the ones who claim that everything under the sun is a ‘vaccine injury’. So why should they risk their special snowflake getting one of those injuries including (but is not limited to) autism, asthma, eczema, allergies, ‘leaky gut’ (whatever the hell that is), temper tantrums, lazy eye etc etc etc.

        Then there’s the ones who are convinced that vaccines don’t EVER work so what’s the point?

        There are a broad range of reasons people choose not to vaccinate, but underlying most of those decisions is 1 key principle:

        1) The vaccines are worse than the diseases they protect against. Never mind the fact that as an example, your chances of getting encephalitis from the measles vaccine is 1/100,000,000 vs the 1 in 1000 risk of encephalitis from actually catching wild measles.

        It’s fear. Fear of side-effects, fear that their child will be that 1 in 1 millions.

        And unfortunately there is an entire INDUSTRY that has sprung up to capitalize on that fear. So-called medical ‘professionals’ (and I use that term VERY loosely), who sell ‘natural’ supplements to ‘boost’ immune systems without the need for those evil, big pharma vaccines!

        One of the key arguments against vaccination is that they make money for pharmaceutical companies. But when I point out that a) the profit from vaccines is a drop in the bucket when compared to the income from regular medication like insulin for diabetics or even viagra and that b)naturopaths, homeopaths, etc etc etc also SELL supplements to make money so how is that any different? I get nothing but silence.

        The thing is, people assume that anti-vaxxers are rational and capable of logic. They prove time and time again that they are not.

        • Who?

          In my mind the vaccine injury criers fit under my hiding in the herd category, but they do deserve a special mention of their own.

          And it isn’t clear to me why it’s not okay to spend money on vax, because it will support big pharma, but it is okay to buy supplements etc from the same companies. And don’t get me started on buying quacky products and services from people who prescribe and sell after they diagnose.

        • mythsayer

          I have a friend who got sick in college… couldn’t keep food down, lost a lot of weight. We were really worried about him for a long time, but he’s fine now.

          He swears up and down that it was the flu vaccine he got that did it to him.

          No joke. He has sworn off all vaccines, including for his toddler daughter, because he thinks HE had a bad reaction to a vaccine. I have tried every which way to explain to him that he has no evidence that it was the vaccine that caused his problem and that even if it was that it is unlikely his daughter would have a bad reaction to a regular vaccine. He doesn’t care. He won’t vaccinate her and is a full on anti-vaxxer these days.

          • CSN0116

            Well it takes two to make such parenting decisions, therefore his darling significant other should be shot for allowing such reckless behavior.

          • mythsayer

            She believes the same as him. I don’t know her reasons.

        • I think that needlephobia comes into it, too. Over the years lots of patients have asked me, about all sorts of injected meds, why an oral form isn’t available., not understanding that stomach contents destroy many meds, and others can’t be absorbed in the intestine. So getting one’s immunizations by drinking something, has great appeal.

          • Angharad

            I think that’s probably a bigger part than most people would admit. It’s cognitive dissonance – I want my child to be healthy, and I don’t want them to get shots because shots hurt and involve needles. Therefore shots must be bad and they don’t really help my child be healthy. You can see this in the opposition to vitamin K injections. I know I’ve wished for an easier delivery mechanism than shots, although I’m not a doctor and I don’t know what it might be. I wonder if vaccinations were delivered by patch or mouth if the antivaxxer movement would lose steam.

          • Poogles

            “I wonder if vaccinations were delivered by patch or mouth if the antivaxxer movement would lose steam.”

            We may have a chance to find out in the nearish future:

            http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0427-microneedle-patch.html

          • MaineJen

            Or by hypospray!!

          • Roadstergal

            “I wonder if vaccinations were delivered by patch or mouth if the antivaxxer movement would lose steam. ”

            If vaccines could be delivered in joints, every Marin and Oregonian nacheral momma would be fully up to date.

          • Sonja Henie

            Yes, yes, and yes! When I worked with teen moms, at least they were honest about being squeamish about their babies getting needles. These uber-sophisticated 30 something moms can’t admit that, so they come up with all this other codswallop. Many anti-vax graphics show babies getting 6-8-10-12 needles and screaming. These people are no brighter than the teen moms, they just think they are.

      • Bugsy

        While #1 was in the ped unit this week, I asked the nurse if they experience anti-vaxxers with kids in the unit. She said that they do, and are always amazed by the cognitive dissonance in declining the preventative health care but seeking it out full-force in a reactive sense.

    • guest

      Dying is natural. Disability is natural. Pain is natural.

    • Nick Sanders

      I saw, just today, someone saying they didn’t need the full vaccine schedule for their baby because they breastfeed. Your move.

    • MI Dawn

      Brooke: why did wetnurses first appear if breastfeeding is so natural? Why do old manuscripts have discussions about how to feed a newborn if mom couldn’t due to illness or death?

      And why are non-medical vaccine exemptions so much more common among white, middle to upper class women, who are also the group most likely to breast feed? In some areas, your “less than 2%” is nearly 40%. I’m sure you could find someone.

    • MaineJen

      So no commentary on the IGG/IGA discussion? I thought not.

      • Mike Stevens

        Breast milk contains high levels of secretory IgA, and also lactoferrin.
        These decrease the risk of intestinal infections in the infant.
        Is it a protective substitute for vaccination?
        Of course not.

    • SporkParade

      The problem is that it isn’t just anti-vaxxers. I’ve seen women claim that there’s no reason parents of babies who are too young to be vaccinated against flu should be worried so long as the mother is breastfeeding. Also, breastfeeding is natural in the same way that walking is natural. I guess wheelchair users are just lazy or something.

  • Dr Kitty

    Oh woe is me! My child is irreparably harmed!
    A 4oz bottle of EBM leaked and his childminder had to feed him some ready-to-drink formula, because 4oz of EBM is not enough for 9hrs.

    The fact that he was quite happy taking the formula, slept well last night and appears completely unharmed is irrelevant. My baby is broken!

    • Montserrat Blanco

      Oh MY GOD!!!! You gave him formula!!!! you can start saving for the nutritionist, speech therapist, tutors and expensive asthma treatments now!!!!!!

      • Dr Kitty

        I know!
        I mean, he’s almost seven months old and happy to eat mashed banana, all the baby food you can buy, scrambled eggs and porridge, but that one bottle of formula has RUINED him!

        Given that his mother, maternal and paternal aunts, sister, maternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, father, maternal great aunt and uncle and maternal cousins all have allergies (ranging from atopic eczema to anaphylaxis) I’m not entirely sure that the BF is going to totally protect him, but I’ll definitely blame the single bottle of formula rather than his family history if he ends up atopic!

        • Charybdis

          Well, at least it was only one small bottle. You can minimize the damage by using, in no particular order the following: aloe vera juice, probiotics, prebiotics, kale, bentonite clay, hydrogen peroxide, apple cider vinegar, activated charcoal, colloidal silver, flower essences, essential oils, raw milk, vitamin c and garlic.

          Don’t forget the organic cotton baby wrap so you can wear your baby to help him heal from the Great Formula Trauma Incident. He might be clingier than usual as he is processing and working through this insult to his pristine system.

          A chiropractic visit might be necessary, to fix any and all subluxations caused by the formula, and a consult with a naturopath might be in order as well; one or both of those can recommend an *excellent* juice cleanse for both you and the baby. If you can’t get things sorted with these suggestions, then a shaman or voodoo priestess would be your next step. When you see the voodoo practitioner, don’t forget to provide your own chicken for the ceremony. It might be serious enough for reiki and psychic healing, but I thing those will be your last resort.

          Everybody makes a mistake now and then. Don’t let it define you, though. Acknowledge your error in judgement, apologize to your son for your transgression and get right back on track after you have mitigated the damage to his little system by using the aforementioned *treatments*.
          /snarkasm

          • MaineJen

            You forgot the coconut oil…

          • Charybdis

            That’s too mainstream these days. Hell, my hair chick said that it can be a good conditioner, so it is obviously not *secret knowledge* anymore.

            But if you have a 50 gallon drum of it, feel free to add it. 😛

    • demodocus

      Oh, the horror!

    • momofone

      Might as well slap a hat on him now!

    • Empliau

      Oh noes! Time for healing baby #3. (Hey, if you can heal from a c-section with a healing birth, why not heal from a broken baby with another?) But only if you quit your job to cosleep/sling/nurse 24/7! /s

  • CSN0116

    All things serious – this tolerance, and even outright perpetuation, of complete falsehood ON BEHALF OF VERY PROMINENT HEALTH PROFESSIONALS is very dangerous.

    The LAST thing I want is for people to start distrusting something like the CDC, or even the AAP. These are important governing bodies that are tasked with presenting and encouraging the best evidence-based recommendations. People trust them and take them seriously, and they should. As someone so pro-vax it’s obnoxious, I don’t want to doubt the CDC’s intentions or recommendations, and I sure as hell don’t want anybody else doubting them either.

    But what gives?! The crazies are of course big pushers of woo, but these professionals play a large role too (BFHI guidelines, anyone?). THAT is crazy dangerous, IMO. Instructing a population to behave a specific way based on half truths and even flat-out lies is appalling. It makes me question so much more, even though I “don’t want to go there.” Sigh…

  • mythsayer

    I’ve said it before, but you know what breastfeeding didn’t protect my daughter against? Chicken pox. That’s right. I caught CP when she was 8 weeks old and got my first pox when she was 10 weeks old. I had hoped (I wasn’t all or even a little woo crazy but I WAS trying to EBF bc I didn’t know all the stuff I was reading was made up – first baby and all… I’m embarrassed by this now) that I’d give her my CP antibodies and she’d have at least a mild case.

    Nope. I had a mild case… Maybe 100 pox. SHE was literally covered in EVERY orifice. You want to live through hell? Hell is you quarantined with your 10 week old in your Japanese apartment for a week while your husband is out of the country while you suffer from chicken pox waiting for said newborn to come down with it herself only to have her be fully covered, refusing to take a bottle so she’ll only stay attached to your breast for nearly 2 weeks even though you make very little milk listening to her scream in pain since she has no understanding of ANYTHING beyond eating and sleeping much less what an illness that causes extreme itching is.

    THAT is hell. And breastfeeding did a whole lotta nothing to help her not get sick in that situation. The only good it did us was that it comforted her. She refused to sleep unless she was on my breast for nearly 2weeks. I’m glad she at least had that comfort, but the experience wasn’t fun for any of us.

    • Madtowngirl

      Oh my god, that sounds like a nightmare.

    • Brooke

      If you never had chicken pox before why weren’t you vaccinated?

      • Montserrat Blanco

        Maybe, just maybe it was before the vaccine was widely available. You know, some of us are old enough to remember that time… Not that long ago, actually, like… 10-15 years ago? It was not on the vaccinations schedule and you had to be inmunocompromised to get it. I can tell you that was exactly the case when I attended medical school about 20 years ago.

        • Chi

          And it could be that even after the vaccination became available, she couldn’t afford it, or didn’t have time. Or it wasn’t even easily available.

          My doctor’s clinic with my PCP actually has to order in the vaccine, which can take up to 10 days. And you have to pay for it out of pocket, which is why I still haven’t gotten my munchkin vaccinated for CP yet.

          • mythsayer

            You guys are all hitting on the issue. It wasn’t because I couldn’t afford it… It’s just that I was too old to have had it recommended for me. I was born in 1978 and if you were born BEFORE 1980 they assumed you’d already had chicken pox. They vaccinated all the 14 and 15 year olds when the vaccine came out (all the ones they could get, I guess) but they didn’t bother with 17 year olds.

            I just happened to fall in the small group of people who never got it and wasn’t in the target vaccination group.

          • Green Fish

            Similar case here.
            Everybody either assumed that I either had chickenpox or was vaccinated, and I thought I was vaccinated as well.
            Then, when I was 19 weeks pregnant, there was a chickenpox outbreak among the students at the institute where my husband was working.
            And so I looked in my vaccination booklet – no chickenpox vaccination.
            I called my mom and she said no, you never had chickenpox, but you were vaccinated, look in your vaccination booklet.
            No vaccination recorded there.

            My doctor then ordered an antibody test to see if I had immunity and luckily I have. But from where we’ll never know.

          • mythsayer

            When I caught it, I did some “research” (of course, I know when it’s reasonable to believe something and when it’s not, so I consider the “research” I do to be fairly accurate) and apparently people often say they never had chicken pox only to discover they actually did have it at some point. Maybe they were too young to remember, or had a mild case, etc.

            In my case, I KNOW I didn’t have it. I remember very clearly being a child when everyone was catching it, including my cousin, and expecting to get sick eventually, and never getting sick. I’m pretty sure most doctors would have put me in the “had it, but don’t remember” category but I would have been adamant that I NEVER had it. Of course, I would have been right.

            My daughter and I had the distinction of being the oldest and youngest people on the military base to have it. I don’t think any other adults caught it (of the Americans on the base) and I know that no other babies who were like 12 weeks old (by the time she showed symptoms) had it. The youngest I heard besides her was like 2 or 3.

            It is so rare in America that none of the doctors, except ONE, who was in his mid to late 40’s, had ever seen a case. I had like 5 people surrounding my daughter marveling at it. In fact, when I first came down with it, I had a baby shower to go to, so I went to the urgent care on that Saturday morning to make sure it wasn’t what I thought it was (which was chicken pox). The doctor stayed about 10 feet away from me the whole time… he never examined me at all… just stood on the other side of the room and said it was a heat rash. I asked him if he was SURE, because I was planning to go to a baby shower, which is why I was in the urgent care… I needed to make sure it wasn’t chicken pox. He said it was definitely a heat rash and I could go to the baby shower.

            On Monday, after I’d gone to the shower, I was worse despite mostly sitting around my air conditioned apartment all weekend, so I went back to the clinic and saw the older doctor and he said “You’re right, it’s chicken pox for sure.”

            That wasn’t the only time I diagnosed myself at that clinic… I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about those doctors. They were fairly incompetent (which is why I have a permanent muscle spasm in my right shoulder, and permanent nerve damage in my left shoulder since they denied me an MRI for 10 months before realizing I actually did have seriously herniated discs in my neck which warranted ASAP surgery, but I digress…).

            Anyway, chicken pox is so rare in the US that most newer (like 10 years maybe?) doctors have never actually seen a case in person. It’s turned in this mythical disease here.

            That phone call to my pregnant friend after I went to the baby shower was one of the worst calls I’ve ever had to make in my life. Thank god she’d already had it (in fact, she brought me groceries since I ended up quarantined in my apartment with NO food and my husband was gone for a week… she was one of the only people who brought me anything, sadly). I can’t imagine being the one who was pregnant during an outbreak. That would have been terrifying if you didn’t know whether you were immune or not. I actually could have been in that situation had the outbreak happened just six or so months earlier while I was still pregnant.

          • Krista

            Same here, I never had it as a child, but my little sister did. The vaccine was never offered to peope my age. Luckily, when they tested me during pregnancy, I was positive for the antibodies. As a child I had whooping cough despite being immunized. I was too young to have any memory of it but my parents description is pretty awful. Nobody else in my immunized family got it though.

        • moto_librarian

          Yup. It wasn’t even licensed in the U.S. until 1995.

          • Spamamander

            And the kids who got the vax that early had to get it again, since they only did a one-shot protocol. (My oldest got the vax in ’95, but she had to get a new 2-shot series before she could volunteer in the hospital)

        • indigosky

          Almost 21 years. I know this well because I caught chicken pox mere weeks before it became available. Lucky me /sarcasm

        • MI Dawn

          Yeah…my (now adult) children weren’t vaccinated against CP because 1)the vaccine came out about 15 years ago and 2)they’d already gone through the hell of having it.

          Yeah, CP is so mild and not dangerous. Tell that to my eldest, who was covered everywhere, including mouth, genitals, etc. Tell me that giving narcotics to a 5 year old because she’s so miserable she couldn’t sit, lie down or do anything but stand is fun. Tell me that knowing your children are at high risk for shingles in the future is a joy. Tell me that watching your child suffer is fun. My reaction won’t be pretty.

          AND…I’ve had various friends of mature (think 35 up) ages go through having shingles in the past few years. That’s one circle of Hell I don’t want to go through, and I’m counting the days till I can get the vaccine myself.

          • Dr Kitty

            There is a shingles vaccine now, specifically for people who have had chicken pox and are at risk of developing shingles.
            The UK is rolling it out to the over 70s, who are the group most likely to have complications from shingles.

      • Margo

        Maybe she was vaccinated because she was in a country that does not include varicella on its vaccine list. In NZ we have to pay for that vaccine, it’s not on the schedule.

        • Margo

          Not vaccinated I mean.

        • Gatita

          That’s crazy.

      • mythsayer

        I wasn’t vaccinated because I am nearly 38 (in less than a month) and anyone born before 1980 is “presumed immune” because EVERYONE in my age range (except me, and a small minority of others, apparently) had chicken pox when we were kids.

        I was a senior in high school when the vaccine came out. Apparently they vaccinated 14 year olds but not 17 years olds. Why? I guess because the 17 year olds were “presumed immune.” In other words, all of the 17 years olds had already had chicken pox and didn’t need the vaccine.

        I never had it, though. And no one asked me if I had. They just assumed I had. I didn’t even KNOW there was a vaccine. Why would I? I didn’t have kids to vaccinate, and everyone presumed I’d had it, so no one asked me if I’d like to be vaccinated. As a senior in high school, I had no reason to know what vaccines were available… I’d already been vaccinated for everything else.

        Had I known about the vaccine, I would absolutely have gotten it.

        In retrospect, doctors SHOULD HAVE asked me if I’d been vaccinated or had it as a kid when I told them I was trying to get pregnant. But, c’est la vie.

        So… that is why I wasn’t vaccinated. I fell through the cracks.

        • AnnaPDE

          Wow, no testing? When I had my IUD removed, my German Ob/Gyn ran blood tests for heaps of things, including immunity to various dideases including CP. I had to show those tests to my Aussie GP to avoid him running the whole lot again, as he was very insistent to catch up on any vaccinations. I thought checking titers (as opposed to asking/presuming) was standard practice.

          • mythsayer

            They don’t seem to do that in the US. Actually, when we moved to Japan, I had to show I was vaccinated… but “fully vaccinated” doesn’t include chicken pox vaccines for adults, apparently. It would have included it for kids… if I had had a kid at the time, but it wasn’t on my list at all. My list only included a TB test and TDAP and then proof that I had my “regular” vaccines, which I actually got from my high school, lol (that was an interesting call… “Hey… I know it’s 2009 and I graduated in 1996, but you wouldn’t happen to have my vaccination records, would you? Oh! You do? Can you fax them to me?”)

            I don’t think I’ve ever been tested for immunity to diseases by any doctor. I know I haven’t had titers for anything ever done.

          • BeatriceC

            I needed my vaccination records when I went back to grad school in my (failed) attempt at a Ph.D. Unfortunately, between the last school that had them and when I was applying, Hurricane Andrew happened. Lots of data was lost. Fortunately, my old pediatrician was still practicing and had all his paper records archived in a storage facility in a different state (he’d been thinking of moving, and started the process, but then changed his mind and never got around to bringing everything back, which is a good thing because they didn’t get destroyed), and was able to dig through his archives and find them.

          • Amy M

            My doctor did a CP titer on me when I was pregnant (I am the same age as you), but I knew I’d had chicken pox as a child. There was some error and I was told I had no titer—it was rerun later and came back as expected, that I did indeed have antibodies. My children have since been vaxxed and I’m glad because just yesterday, husband took them to a walk in clinic (one of them has a mild skin infection) and there was a kid there with suspected CP.

          • Daleth

            In countries with good health insurance systems, yes, it is. But we’re talking about the US in recent decades…

        • guest

          Brooke was way out of line. I’m only a little older than you. I had chicken pox as a teen, but no one checked with me after the vaccine became available to see if I needed it. I didn’t know there was a CP vaccine for many years because I didn’t have kids, and no one thought it was necessary to check whether I had natural immunity.

          • Who?

            ‘Way out of line’ is Brooke’s go to position.

          • guest

            Yeah, no kidding.

          • mythsayer

            I am SO GLAD I’m not the only one who didn’t know about the vaccine. I didn’t find out about it until I got sick. Seriously, if you don’t have kids, how would you ever know it existed if you were our age?

          • Tokyobelle

            I didn’t know about it until a few years ago either. I’m 39, and I had CP sometime back in the early 80’s, but apparently my mom was told my case so mild, it’s possible I might catch it again, but when I asked about it while pregnant, I was told there was no such thing. If you’ve had it, you’re immune. Next time I see a different doctor, I’ll ask again.

          • Poogles

            “Seriously, if you don’t have kids, how would you ever know it existed if you were our age?”

            I don’t have kids yet, and I’m trying to remember when I found out about the CP vaccine. I’m a bit younger (33 in a few months) and had it when I was ~7 and gave it to my little brother who was a toddler at the time. My youngest sibling was born in 1996, so I wonder if it was something I heard about in relation to my siblings?
            Then, of course, I had my anti-vaxx stage in my early 20’s and that was a popular vax to deride – “they even have a vaccine for CHICKEN POX now, of all things! It’s not even a serious disease, just a rite of passage” sort of thing.

        • demodocus

          i’m your age and no one ever asked me, either. My sister and I did catch it when we were 7 and 9 (fortunately, Mom got pregnant with baby brother 2 months *later*) but how would anyone actually know?

        • Inmara

          You just made me realize that I have no idea whether I have had chickenpox or been vaccinated. Nobody brought up this with me prior to pregnancy, too (and CP vaccine is seen as “optional” among many parents and, sadly, doctors, so chance to contract it is high). Going to call my mom and find this out.

          • Dr Kitty

            Get titres done if you are in any doubt.
            Having had the pox myself aged eight, and been exposed on more or less a weekly basis at work, my immunity isn’t in doubt at this point.

            Varicella vaccine isn’t on the schedule in the UK, so it is pretty much endemic in the spring time. #1 got away with a mild case aged about 18 months, hoping #2 will be the same.

            Both my sisters are in the unlucky pool who have had chicken pox twice, once as young children and again (and much worse) as teens. Natural immunity isn’t always 100% either. My sisters and I had the misfortune to all end up sick just before major school exams, they got chicken pox four years apart, I had a major drug reaction to antibiotics. My father jokes that the universe wanted to make sure we REALLY deserved our university places.

          • MI Dawn

            My sister had it twice, also. Very mild case as a baby, which I brought home, and a really bad case as a teen. She was miserable and ended up hospitalized for a few days due to sepsis. That was not a fun time.

          • Daleth

            Thanks for reminding me to get my twins vaccinated. They caught CP at 9 months–no itching, which is apparently common when you get it before 12 months of age, but they had spots everywhere and were really under the weather. The doctor mentioned that having it before 12 months means you’re unlikely to develop lifetime immunity, so we should give them the shot. I didn’t realize it could be so much worse the second time! They’ll be getting the shot at their next doctor visit.

          • Inmara

            Thanks for suggestion, I just lookied that varicella IgG titers can be checked for mindblowing 5,83 euros, so I’ll visit a lab when possible and get it done.

          • Gatita

            The only reason I know I’m immune is because I had titres done after a coworker broke out in shingles. I had no memory of getting chicken pox but apparently I was exposed at some point.

      • mythsayer

        Oh and you know what?

        Even though my daughter had chicken pox, I VACCINATED HER AGAINST CHICKEN POX!

        Shocking, I know.

        Why, you ask? Let me tell you why. I really did think this one through (seriously, I considered both sides).

        When young babies get chicken pox, they actually may not get lifetime immunity. So I figured it was better to give her a possibly unnecessary vaccine than it was to have her get chicken pox again (we might actually move back to Japan one day, where the CP vaccination rate is like 20% and they have outbreaks all the time, so she could actually be exposed again).

        I believe in vaccines, clearly.

        • Who?

          What is it with vaccines and Japan? We had MMR boosters before our first trip, because apparently wild measles are a thing there, and I had no desire to get any of those illnesses ever again.

          • mythsayer

            I’m not sure, actually.

            The CS rate is only about 17%. They almost all have “natural” births with very few epidurals. Someone at my military base went to a birth center in Okinawa (she flew there 27 HOURS before she started labor from the mainland… to be fair, they asked her to come at 35 weeks and she said she couldn’t so she wasn’t going to go at all… she changed her mind and flew there at 40 weeks, landing just before labor started). The birth center was JUST as woo filled as the ones here and it even included an actual doctor. Breastfeeding is VERY common there. They don’t vaccinate as much.

            Overall, they seem rather woo filled… but at the same time, they don’t really seem to care if you use formula. They don’t seem to shame if you have a CS. They don’t seem to care if you do or do not vaccinate. In other words… they seem to just be a live and let live kind of people (maybe they aren’t… maybe it’s just because I don’t speak Japanese, lol). They are really woo like (few cloth diapers, though) but they aren’t very judgmental.

      • momofone

        Some of us are old enough not to have had the vaccine as an option, Brooke. Which may explain why we were/are adamant about vaccinating our children, now that the vaccine is available.

      • Who?

        You never did locate a dictionary and look up ‘compassion’ did you Brooke?

        Not that I think it would help you behave less like a savage, but it might give you something to think about.

        • Mishimoo

          That was a good deal nicer than what I wanted to say, so thank you.

      • JenRPh

        Perhaps, just perhaps, this happened prior to the existence of the varicella vaccine. That hasn’t been around forever, you know.

  • CSN0116

    I’ve shared this before, but my stupid smart prosecutor/attorney friend who had to put her kid in daycare to return to the job she loved, started to lose her supply. She was OK with formula feeding, but pressed herself to extreme limits to find the time each day to pump a few ounces for her baby. She didn’t want to. It was an immense inconvenience given the demand of her work and commute time. She did it because she was CONVINCED that those 2-3 oz per day would stop the baby from getting sick at daycare.

    It didn’t work.

    • Madtowngirl

      Daycares/schools are basically Petri dishes. Even the most golden of “liquid gold” isn’t going to prevent pink eye.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has tried to treat it with breast milk, though….

      • CSN0116

        Lactivists tell women all the time to “squirt breast milk” into an infected pink eye, because it will cure it.

        That’s like their go-to suggestion.

        • Madtowngirl

          Cool, nothing like making an infection worse!

        • Dr Kitty

          Most pink eye is viral and will resolve in 5-7 days regardless.

          Blocked tear ducts will mostly resolve without treatment by 12-18 months.

          I don’t tend to suggest anything except cool boiled water and massage for either.

          • Roadstergal

            Post hoc ergo propter hoc…

      • meglo91

        I am more than ashamed to admit that, with my first, when I was deep into the “breastmilk is EVERYTHING!” mindset, I did squirt breastmilk into my daughter’s eye for a clogged tear duct. WTF, past me?

        • Poogles

          That advice is EVERYWHERE, it seems, so really don’t be so hard on yourself.

          It never really occurred to me that breastmilk in the eye could do much harm, especially for something like a clogged tear duct…then I came across this article:

          https://themomivist.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/no-breast-milk-is-not-a-miracle-cure-all/

          • meglo91

            Well, that is horrifying. I’m just glad I didn’t give my poor daughter an eye infection in addition to the clogged duct.

        • MaineJen

          Yup, me too 🙂

      • Amy

        All the way up through high schools and colleges. There’s a reason why so many colleges require another round of vaccinations to attend.

  • rose

    Both my husband and I are the type that can be in a room full of sick people and not get sick, as can mos of our family. We had our daughter vaccinated and we formula fed. People were always talking about how healthy she was and touted the wonders of breastmilk. I loved telling them that she had never had a drop of breastmilk, that her apparent immunity was from vaccinations and being genetically predisposed to not getting sick. The shock on their inept and arrogant faces was always amusing to watch. Our daughter is now 11 and she still gets people claiming she must have been breastfed. Nope, vaccines and genetics.

    • Daleth

      I like your style. 🙂

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    I thought the tassel was a nice touch.

    • AirPlant

      I try to bring my sense of whimsy into all that I do.

  • guest

    Yeah, I pushed myself to breastfeed so hard because I was led to believe this was providing long-lasting health benefits. I also had them vaccinated, because duh, but the message is very confused about how breastfeeding provides health benefits.

    • moto_librarian

      Our eldest was born at the height of the H1N1 epidemic. I spent hours sobbing, convinced that he would get the flu because he wouldn’t get antibodies from my breastmilk from my vaccine. Even now, I feel absolutely outraged and disgusted about the amount of misinformation out there regarding breastfeeding. I made my life a living hell for no real reason.

  • Monkey Professor for a Head

    The “I breastfeed so I don’t need to vaccinate” argument always seems so nonsensical to me. Historically, before the invention of vaccines and formula, the vast majority of babies were breastfed. And millions died from vaccine preventable diseases.

    • demodocus

      They either don’t believe history or rationalize the heck out of it.

      • monojo

        They also romanticize it.

    • Roadstergal

      It’s all about hygiene and quality of food. Back in the bad old days, they didn’t have hygiene and were susceptible to VPDs. Nowadays, only the people in developing nations or people who eat junk food need vaccines.

      Just ask Bill Maher.

      • MaineJen

        WTF has happened to Bill Maher? He had some quacktastic doctor on his show a few weeks ago, claiming to be able to cure cancer with goats’ milk or something. He’s funny when he talks politics, but a complete whackadoo when it comes to medicine and GMOs.

        • Roadstergal

          The dude who said AIDS could be cured by drinking the milk of arthritic goats. But Bill was banging on the HIV/AIDS denialist wagon long before:
          http://www.aliveandwell.org/html/top_bar_pages/whatif_eng.html

          I used to wonder what happened to him, but I’ve come to realize that he was always like that. I just didn’t see it. So fuck him, really. He’s super into the woo and loud enough that I consider him to have blood on his hands.

  • Amy M

    Thank you for this. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen (online), a claim that breastmilk acts like a disease shield because of the antibodies, and that this protection lasts as long as the baby is breastfed. I did a bit of googling about passive immunity and learned that a) most passive immunity to the baby goes via the placenta before birth and b)passive immunity via breastmilk wanes 3-6months out.

    I looked that up because a friend of mine was freaking out when breastfeeding didn’t work out. She had been convinced that her child was missing out on something vital, would be frequently sick and it would be all mom’s fault for failing to provide the antibodies. Luckily, my friend is very anti-woo and when presented with evidence that her daughter would be fine, she calmed down.

    The fact that some people believe that breastfeeding is equivalent to vaccination just shows the very poor understanding these people have of how vaccines and immunity work.

  • AirPlant

    It could be the daylight savings tiredness or the generalized erosion of my social niceties, but the next person to bring some made up shit to me about breastmilk might just get a full on fuck you rant.
    Breastmilk is great. Breastfeeding is great. I will not bat an eye at anybody breastfeeding, covered or otherwise, anywhere that both you and the kid are allowed to be. I mean even if the mom in question is full topless breastfeeding her nine year old with only a single, spinning tassel on the off side, simultaneously singing an original composition written as an ode to her maternal superiority the worst I am gonna do is roll my eyes and maybe snapchat one of my friends to thank her for not being a douche. I am a city dweller and I make it a point to now give a shit about the life choices surrounding me.
    But the bad science has to stop. At this point lactivists are literally making shit up and calling it science. Just the other day I saw a meme that claimed that the stem cells in breastmilk traveled into the child’s body and physically rebuilt the parts of it that are damaged or weak. No proposed mechanism, no scientific evidence, just a quotation from some rando lactivist pediatrician. Over a thousand shares and 2/3 of the comments were people saying talking about how reassuring it is when science conforms all the amazing properties of breastmilk. But that isn’t science. They have found stem cells in breast milk, but to my knowledge there is no evidence that these cells are doing anything besides being digested. Childern have not been observed to carry their mother’s DNA, breastfed or otherwise. One guy saying something one time doesn’t make it real and should not be promoted as incontrovertible evidence no matter what his degree is in.
    As a scientist, this stuff just worms its way under my skin. Science is not a weapon, it is a method of investigation, and claiming it is on your side when you are literally relying on a quote that you read on the internet makes me just want to burn it all to the ground and start over.

    • Roadstergal

      Stem cells, now?

      OK, my next prediction – someone will see ‘epigenetics’ and think, hey, how can I shoehorn this into a Breast Is Best narrative?

      And like the microbiome, there’s enough going on that if you do a fishing expedition, you’ll find some methylation somewhere that’s different between BF and bottle feeding in a nice small cohort, and cue IFLS trumpeting it all over the Book of Face and an overblown overconclusion making it into BFHI formula waivers.

      • Amy M

        I think that’s the “virgin gut” those lactivists are always going on about.

        • AirPlant

          I absolutely do not know how to respond when people mention the virgin gut around me. I have been going with a dead eyed stare, but it doesn’t seem to be making an impression…

          • Charybdis

            Guts have sex? Who knew?

            Edited to add that I *know* what the term virgin means in this case. But it sounds nearly as asinine as some of the stuff they spout all the time.

          • Tigger_the_Wing

            As someone with genetic gut issues, I think I would likely supplement the stare – after about 3 seconds – with a massive laughing session.

            Followed by pointing at them, and saying “Good one! You nearly made me think you really believed that!” when I’d calmed down a bit, then I’d roll off giggling to myself.

      • AirPlant

        Oh, they are already there with the epigenetics. That maddening data set is just one painful google search away.
        Stem cells have been a thing for a while now. I think my personal low point was when my pregnant friend told me that she was encapsulating her placenta so that she would have the benefit of the stem cells. I didn’t have the heart to explain that even if there were a mechanism that allowed the placental stem cells to do anything for her, the encapsulation process probably would get rid of that possibility pretty thoroughly.

        • Roadstergal

          Stop the planet, I want to get off.

        • MI Dawn

          But, but, but….PLACENTA! The cure of all postpartum ills, according to the placentavists…. (can I just say, EWWWWWWWW – and that’s as a midwife who’s seen plenty of them, and fortunately only had 1 mother request hers. She wanted to take it home to bury under a new tree to celebrate the birthday. However, the hospital refused to let her do so. I would have let her, for something like that.).

          • AirPlant

            You know, I am almost at the point where I am just like at least it isn’t a lotus birth. Its gross, but so is squeezing out my husband’s ingrown hairs and that is pretty much my favorite thing to do in this world. Really the only difference is that I don’t advertise that particular hobby on social media.

    • swbarnes2

      If that was true, women with predilections for cancer would be passing on stem cells with the same predilections to their children!

      • AirPlant

        Are you ever tempted to sit down and ask people to define things? Like just sit down and tell me exactly what you think a stem cell is and what you think it does. The results would be interesting at the very least…

        • swbarnes2

          I think “stem cells = magic” and “breastmilk = magic” would be the gist of the responses.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Why would an infant need a mother’s stem cells? Infants have their own.

      • AirPlant

        I have literally no idea. The entire concept boggles the mind.

    • Vanessa

      So true. On a recent Facebook post about wet nursing, a young man said that “research shows that children who are breastfed from different mothers are actually healthier because they are getting antibodies from different women.” He never came back to show proof of his claims but that comment received hundreds of LIKES and a lot of comments like, ” that’s so amazing”. Lactivist will believe anything that praises breastmilk.

      • Mel

        That’s terrifying.

  • The Computer Ate My Nym

    Even for IgA antibodies, passive immunization only lasts as long as the antibodies continue to be supplied. After that, the person is unprotected. So at best you get protection while the breastfeeding is going on. No long term immunity at all.

    • Mel

      That’s the bit that confuses me. Yes, breast milk can provide some protection against colds and diarrheal illnesses WHILE the infant is being breastfeed + the lifespan of the maternally derived antibodies in the body. That’s not very long at all….

      • Roadstergal

        People don’t realize that antibodies have a half-life.

        I think they believe antibody transfer = full immunity because antibody titer post-immunization or post-booster is a decent measure of success of immunization, but that there’s a set of rather critical cellular steps before that. It’s a misunderstanding that shouldn’t exist after a high school biology class, but whatever.

        Maybe we could make it all folksy – placental antibody transmission is giving your baby a fish, vaccination is teaching it to fish…

      • AirPlant

        What I have seen from anti vaxxers though is that the breastmilk will protect them when they are tiny and vulnerable to disease, by the time they naturally wean at 7 they will be strong enough to survive the disease and then obtain the perfect, lifelong immunity that you can never get from a needle.
        At some point there is not enough evidence in the world to convince somebody that they have exited the train at crazytown.

      • Brooke

        It depends how long someone breastfeeds their baby. The longer they do statistically the more likely they and their baby are likely to experience the benefits breastfeeding provides.

        • Mel

          Kind of-sort-of. Sure, the immunoglobulin A transfer will continue as long as the child is breastfed but 1) IgA transfer is a weak passive transfer at best and 2) breastfeeding is doing nothing to protect against any other diseases besides colds and stomach bugs.

          There are still a few open questions, though. When an infant is very young, they have a very small body mass and are probably getting enough IgA from breast milk for some protection against colds and stomach bugs. As the infant grows, however, they start getting calories from other foods. With those calories from other foods, the amount of IgA they are consuming compared to their total volume of food or total volume of body mass drops. At some point – and I don’t know exactly where that point is – the benefits from some breastfeeding for IgA transfer disappear; the kid’s intake of breastmilk isn’t high enough for the IgA transfer to matter. Plus, IgA transfer to protect against colds and stomach bugs is a weak benefit if the infant develops rickets due to the low Vitamin D level of breastmilk or anemia from lack of iron.

          A vaccination, on the other hand, will cause the native B-cells in the kid to become memory cells that can mount an actual defense by producing antibodies against the vaccinated disease.

        • demodocus

          My son’s ped said that the immunity help is pretty much too small to count by 6 months.

        • momofone

          Spoken straight from the pamphlet, huh.

        • MI Dawn

          Yeah, tell that to my kids, Brooke. First ear infections at 3 weeks of age, exclusively breastfed, no exposure to the public at that point. Benefits? Maybe, as discussed above, fewer stomach viruses, but then, my EBG-to-mixed feed- to EFF kids never got stomach viruses either…and child 1 started daycare at 1 year but child 2 started at 6 weeks.

          • MI Dawn

            OH, and I totally forgot to discuss the 2 bouts of mastitis and thrust infections during those EBF times.

        • Daleth

          Brooke, do you have a study you can point us to on that?

    • Brooke

      So what if it is “only” there the first few months and years of a child’s life before they have fully developed their own immune system? That’s actually when they need the passive immunity and whatever nutritional benefits there are in breastmilk because their most susceptible to dying from getting sick.

      • CSN0116

        they’re

      • demodocus

        More like first months, and considering the fact that my bf’d firstborn had 5 colds before he was 6 months, I’m guessing it’s very relative.

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        Most of the passive antibodies they receive come through placental transfer just before birth anyway. Breast feeding provides only a small supplement. In countries with clean water like most of the US, the benefit is pretty minor and the chance of protecting against a potentially deadly disease is extremely low. A baby without a URI is a happier baby than one with a URI and if all else were exactly equal, it might be better to breast feed for the one or two fewer colds in the first year, but all else is never equal so the decision remains one that only the individual involved can make.

      • MaineJen

        But IGG antibodies are the go-to protectors against VPDs. IGAs are short lived and have lower affinity/avidity for a target antigen. That’s why very young babies are susceptible to things like pertussis even if they’re breastfed. Babies can only acquire their own IGG antibodies by being vaccinated, or by becoming ill. (“Developing their own immune system.”) I know which I’d prefer.

  • demodocus

    can’t you also give your baby a lot of illnesses via breast milk? Fortunately, my baby had been vaccinated against rotovirus for several months when both his parents caught it. He didn’t.

    • Irène Delse

      Well, yes, AIDS can be transmitted via breast milk.

      • demodocus

        i knew about that one,

        • Irène Delse

          Syphilis and tuberculosis too, IIRC.

        • Roadstergal

          Generally speaking, viruses like to be transmitted by bodily fluids. The mouth and stomach can be a little unfriendly to some, but just a little. I wouldn’t be surprised if HepB can be efficiently transmitted through breast milk.

          Also, if you have small molecule poisons in your system (say, lead), they spread pretty easily throughout the body.

          • Roadstergal

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26262690

            “The human immunodeficiency virus type 1 and 2, human T-lymphotropic virus and cytomegalovirus in preterm newborns or low birth weight are the most frequent viruses that cause infection or illness in children as a result of its transmission through breast milk. For other viruses, such as varicella zoster, hepatitis A or hepatitis B, the immunoprophylaxis of the newborn, through the administration of immunoglobulin and vaccine, protect children against their transmission.”

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26072037

            “Breastfeeding is not a risk factor for maternal-to-infant transmission of HBV after the recommended prophylaxis is implemented. However, viral DNA positive breast milk is a main source for vertical transmission of HCMV to infants who are not protected by a standard immunoprophylaxis protocol.”

            So if you’re not immunizing your kid, you’re exposing them to your viruses, not protection from same.

          • Roadstergal

            Oh good god. I came across this paper:
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24068703

            It basically says that fatty acid fractions of human breast milk can blunt the infectivity of HCV.

            And a commentary in the same issue is entitled “Protection against hepatitis C and other enveloped viruses? Another reason why “breast is best”.” To be clear, they’re saying that Breast Is Best because isolated components blunt infectivity in vitro, so the most generous assessment is that maybe lipids present in some women’s breast milk can make one viruses less infectious – IF THE VIRUS IS IN THE BREAST MILK. Even at the most generous interpretation, formula feeding would prevent the kid from being exposed in the first damn place!

          • cookiebaker

            My formula fed babies have been so much healthier than my breastfed babies. I wonder if that was why?

          • BeatriceC

            Of my three, only one had any significant amount of formula. He’s the figure skating, ballet dancing football player, while his brothers all have a variety of medical issues. Of course, most of the medical issues are related to the bone disease, but others like asthma are not. Actually, my kid who breastfed the longest is the one that gets sick if a bug so much as looks at him from within a three mile radius.

          • Tigger_the_Wing

            I love that you have a ‘figure skating, ballet dancing football player’; I had ballet dancing, piano playing, rugby players. Now in their thirties, one is a concert pianist (who also tunes and restores pianos) and, until recently, an amateur rugby player; one is a personal trainer and black belt martial artist in several disciplines; and one is currently a stay-at-home mother – whose hobby is kick-boxing.

            Edited to add: the twins were diagnosed with joint hypermobility syndrome in their early teens, and barred from contact sport by the rheumatologist.

          • MI Dawn

            Hi, Tigger_the_Wing! You have beautiful kids.

            Mine were breast fed and bottle fed. Both quit nursing much before I was ready to stop. I have VERY stubborn children who inherited their father’s lousy ear anatomy and suffered from frequent ear infections, even while being exclusively breastfed. Both decided that breastfeeding was making their ears hurt and quit nursing. Because I was/am a lousy mother, I said the hell with it and went to a bottle instead of pumping and using whatever mode to substitute (dropper, cup, etc) is du joir. They both grew up to be essentially healthy, very happy, independent adults, although my elder child did develop exercise-induced asthma as a teen.

          • Brooke

            That sounds like a great argument against vaccinating during pregnancy.

          • Irène Delse

            No, it’s not. Because vaccines against viral diseases don’t contain active virus, only inactivated, or even just proteins from the viral envelope. You may think the contrary, but vaccine researchers are actually competent, and not evil people!

          • Roadstergal

            If you’re as clueless as Brooke, maybe.

            Those who are not lacking in two brain cells to rub together realize that vaccination during pregnancy allows mothers to transfer protective IgGs to their future sprogs via placental transfer – actual passive immunity – given that they’re not going to get any of that via breastmilk.

          • Dinolindor

            My guess is that she’s coming from the preservatives and “metal toxins” in vaccines angle.

          • Roadstergal

            Oh LOL, I didn’t even think of that. That is another level of nuts, but I think you’re right.

          • Dr Kitty

            Oh dear G-d, no.
            Brooke, do you even know how attenuated and killed vaccines work?
            Do you think you know more than the MULTIPLE public health agencies which recommend vaccination against influenza and pertussis in pregnancy?

            Every post makes you look dumber.
            Honestly, have you got any science education past an eighth grade level?

            Pregnant ladies: get your ‘flu vaccines and your Pertussis boosters*.
            You and your babies are safer with than without.
            Brooke is a less reliable source of info than the CDC, the UK’s Public Health Agency and the WHO.

            *not advising anything I didn’t have myself during my recent pregnancy.

          • demodocus

            Got my flu vaccine the week after it became available (and a few days before my FET) Still got a few weeks for the TDap, but I’m definitely getting it.
            I am sort of wondering if i should get toddlerboy an extra dose of DTap, ’cause of the acellular’s faster waning. sigh, the things we worry about. (Their father got updated in August, so I know he’s good.)

          • Mishimoo

            It’s worth asking!

            I’m asking our doctor about a DTaP booster for my eldest, because her last one was at 4 and if I recall correctly, the pertussis component can start to lose efficacy at the 5 year mark. She’s 9 and a half, and it seems like pertussis goes through her school every winter. Selfish, but I want to go back to work soon, not nurse kids through a potentially lethal VPD.

          • TsuDhoNimh

            NO, it’s a great reason to vaccinate or get boosters.

            The higher the antibody level in the mum, the more can pass across the placenta to protect the baby.

            (Exceptions being vaccines with live components )

          • Daleth

            That makes absolutely no sense. In fact, women get vaccinated against pertussis in pregnancy so that their unborn baby can have some protection from pertussis when it’s a newborn too young to get its own shot.

    • Brooke

      Only sexually transmitted ones that they test people for during pregnancy.

      • Montserrat Blanco

        Well, actually….

        Strep B

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24632666

        CMV, something that most kids get at kindergarten

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24172840
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23016620

        Brucellosis, something that you usually acquire drinking cow milk

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23560724

        Hep C, you are right it is tested during pregnancy but the transmission mechanism is not clearly only sexual contact.

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25232447

        Well, Brooke, I am going to wait comfortably seated for your answer. After reading your comments for a while I am pretty sure I will have to wait a long long long time.

      • demodocus

        And how do you know I don’t have an STD?

        • The Computer Ate My Nym

          Presumably you were tested and treated during pregnancy…assuming that you didn’t decide to forgo prenatal care and do a UC. In which case, who knows what’s in your breast milk. After all, nearly everyone who is pregnant had sex at least once.

          • Elisabetta Aurora

            And presumably the woman hasn’t changed sexual partners in the 2-4 years she’s been breastfeeding nor has her partner changed partners with or without her knowledge.

          • demodocus

            oh, *i* know i don’t, but it is theoretically possible that i have caught one since i was tested in October. Certainly, Brooke’s assumption could easily be wrong.