October 29th, 2009
02:51 PM ET
As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.
"I have a 4-month-old infant and I recently had myself and my 6-year-old son vaccinated for H1N1. My question is, will my infant also gain my immunity to H1N1 through my breast milk? I hope so."
This is a great question and a huge concern for many parents whose children are less than 6 months old and therefore too young to get the H1N1 vaccine. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to your question, Shannon, so the best we can do is spell out what we do know.
We know that any time you breastfeed your 4-month-old, you pass on potent antibodies (proteins that your immune system produces to fend off disease in the body) that protect him or her against a whole range of infections.
We also know a bit about other vaccines and breast milk, for example, the pneumococcal vaccine that protects against things like pneumonia and meningitis. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, mothers who received that vaccine produced antibodies that were detectable in their breast milk, and passed them on to their babies. What is not as clear is whether those antibodies actually conferred immunity to their newborns.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance about breast milk and the flu vaccine is a tinge more hopeful, albeit far from conclusive: "By breastfeeding, mothers can pass on to the infant the antibodies that their bodies make in response to the flu shots, which can reduce the infant's chances of getting sick with the flu."
While experts wrestle with this question, you have already taken a positive step – and significantly reduced your baby’s chances of getting the H1N1 virus – by getting yourself vaccinated. The next step is to create a "cocoon of protection" around your baby by making sure that other caregivers in the family also get vaccinated.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.