How long after stopping breastfeeding does a baby retain immunity?

baby bottle holder
Amazing how many creepy baby drawings are out there

You know how you have to get a shot every week to keep immunity against Chicken Pox, the Mumps, etc? Yeah me neither. That’s because once you get immunity, you’ve got it. It can weaken, and that’s a different matter.

I’ll point out right here that this article says “if you can’t breastfeed, you can’t. Your child isn’t going to suffer horribly because of it although there might be some things to look out for.”

The reason you’re probably here is because you’re worried about what will happen because you can’t. While I’m not claiming not to worry, as there are some issues, it’s not the end-all that the internet makes it out to be.

I’ll give you the short answer here and you can read the rest if you want the backing. It doesn’t matter how long you breastfed as long as you did it for the first couple of days of your child’s life. That’s the only time the immune system is transferred, however the immune system is supported thereafter via breastfeeding.

If stopping breastfeeding, how long does the immune support last?

What you’re asking is a misconception involving your immune system, and immune support. These are different things.

Immune support involves passing probiotics via breastmilk to the gut, less stress to the baby and some general goodness added by bonding with the baby and letting it do what it was designed to do. Imagine it’s orange juice and a sunlamp in the winter. These things will make you happier and less stressed and less prone to become sick.

There’s also a secondary topical antiviral and antibiotic effect of breast milk where it touches.

Immune support is not the immune system

The immune system runs on immune support. However you can support the immune system with decent formula, keeping your baby happy and unstressed, and not stressing yourself the eff out. Stressed parents = stressed baby.

Think of immune support as gas for the imunovan.

How does the baby get my immune system?

Breast diagramIf you’re breastfeeding, your immune system is passed to the baby via colostrum. You transfer antibodies/antigens to your baby during the first day or two of breastfeeding colostrum (the golden liquid). After a day or so, babies experience something called gut closure, where the stomach stops being able to absorb the antibodies/antigens found in the colostrum.

There’ll still be the topical antibodies and support of the immune system from breastfeeding thereafter.

They’ve also been sharing quite a bit of your immune system since before they came out of you.

What this means

If you managed to breastfeed on the first few days of your child’s life, congratulations, you transferred your antibodies to your newborn. No amount of breastfeeding after four days will give them an immune response you possess. You’re not a terrible mother if you need to switch to formula.

If not, you might want to consider keeping them out of the public eye for the first couple of months until you get the first round of vaccines, but you don’t have to.

Topical antibiotic effect of breast milk

Imagine your breast milk as containing a crap ton of virus and bacteria fighting properties. Any surface it touches is going to be wiped clean of some amount of germs and viruses. Now look at a baby who’s had any milk, look at the surfaces covered. These include large swaths of the face, the mouth, possibly the nasal cavities due to sneezing.

The antigens/antibodies tend to topically fight bacteria and infection on coated surfaces for a short time, however not all surfaces are coated at all times, and germs are going to get through wherever they can, so it’s like a screen door with a large hole if you want to consider the topical immunity.

But… but… but….

Don’t get me wrong, breastfeeding is best feeding. The stomach bacteria produced by breast milk as opposed to formula are markedly different and theoretically should work better for your baby, but…

Regardless of how little colostrum your baby ingested in the first few days, your baby picked up some antigens through it. Anything else is gravy. You’re probably not a horrible person. Anyone who says you’re a horrible person because you couldn’t breastfeed for any reason is probably just being a judgemental piece of shit.

Bacteria are absurdly tiny and reproduce at an alarming rate. If you produce any milk for a baby via pumping or breastfeeding, you’re giving your child the necessary intake ingredients. You’ll need to hold them, comfort them, etc, but you’re fine.

Alternately I’m completely wrong and you are a horrible person and you’re harming your baby irreparably. Since most of the blogs on this don’t bother to do any research other than quoting another blog on the thing that didn’t do any research and quoted another blog on the thing, perhaps I’m a bit out of touch with how it’s supposed to be done. I’m just going by what multiple immunologists have written, peer reviewed papers, etc.

After several months of formula feeding exclusively, I’ve got a happy healthy kiddo. Our friends who breast feed exclusively have multiple ear infections, skin issues, and more. Everyone’s circumstances are different. This isn’t me advocating formula, we had to go that route. Our kid ended up fine.

The below links both back me up and contradict me.

More reading:

After note

After two years of this being one of the most commented on and misread or misunderstood pieces I’ve written I’m closing down comments and deleting them. You can agree with me, disagree with me, but I’m tired of the message to women who can’t breastfeed being posted in my comments section that they’re somehow faulty, evil, or harming their kids.

Breast is best, but if you’re ripping your tits off and miserable constantly that’s not good for you or the baby. You’re not going to fuck up a child for life by giving them formula (although there are certain exemptions for this within the first 48 hours post birth, I’d definitely try to breastfeed for that period).

If someone says they tried to breastfeed until they cried and consulted several lactation experts, were bleeding into the milk, in pain all the time and you come and tell them how easy it was with a hot towel and just “actually trying” you’re a horrible unempathetic person and can go be that somewhere else.

So in the end, try your best, talk to your doctor. If that’s not working, remember that formula for one baby during the time they actually need it will cost you between $1200 and $1700, and it’s not worth making the first year of your child’s life into a horrible memory of pain and agony and an underfed baby.