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October 29th, 2009
02:51 PM ET

Will breastfeeding protect my baby from H1N1?

As a  feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Shannon:

"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." 

Answer:

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.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


Filed under: Caregiving • Children's Health • Cold and flu • Expert Q&A • H1N1 Flu • H1N1 Flu Vaccine • Parenting • Vaccinations

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soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Janel

    If you think you have H1N1 the new AAP recommendations are to:
    -Wash your hands prior to every nursing session
    -Wash your breasts with warm water and soap-rinse well
    -Use new burp clothes and blankets with every new contact
    -Wear a mask to reduce risk of the baby becoming infected

    These protocols should also be enforced on your L&D floor at the hospital. To read more log on to the AAP website for a complete explanation.

    November 4, 2009 at 00:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. JaneCitizen

    I believe that it will offer some kind of protection. My entire family fell ill with the regular old seasonal flu; I ended up in the hospital over it. At the time I was nursing my newborn and I was horrified of the thought that my baby could succcumb to such a preventable disease. I had a holistic OBGYN and she told me to keep nursing no matter what. Even once in the hospital on retrovirals she told me to keep giving the baby my milk because I was transferring some of my immunity to the baby via breast milk. Needless to say the baby did not get sick nor does she get sick very often now. Call it luck of the draw, survival of the fittest or whatever, I strongly believe that nursing is nature's way of inoculating the young.

    December 1, 2009 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dr. Harris Meyer

    it's great to see the discussion here. It is disturbing tho that as a culture, we still lean mostly to the conventional "kill all the germs on our skin" to prevent getting sick...what garbage that is. Then, use vaccines loaded with poisons to prevent onset of the illness which works some of the time tho that's not proven BUT it sometimes also results in horrible catastrophic results. And if/when we do get the illness, there's a good chance the doctor will find some reason to put us on an antibiotic when it's a virus!

    Yes, let's return to nature to the extent we can. Do nurse as long as you can, use your brain regarding putting poisonous stuff in your body, don't let yourself get fat...it's just trouble no matter how you slice it; get enough sleep. It aint necessarily easy and it goes against the mainstream grain but history is showing the necessity for us to return to the ways of a simpler time.

    As a San Francisco chiropractor, I work on this with my patients every day and have for the past many years.

    February 17, 2010 at 01:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Finlay Richardson

    my dad is a chiropractor and he often amazes me how he could treat my sprains.-~:

    July 13, 2010 at 00:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Gracie Hayes

    the chiropractors on our area are quite good, i love to learn their trade secret,`"

    October 7, 2010 at 15:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Chipboard Sheets 

    H1N1 in reality is not that very deadly at all, it is just a nuisance disease':,

    October 19, 2010 at 03:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Complete Kitchen ·

    H1N1 is not so deadly at all but it really scared the hell out of us ~

    November 8, 2010 at 06:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Wendi Edgeman

    really useful Here's some mildly amuzing stuff I found: Thought for the day? : I saw a close friend of mine the other day... He said, Steven, why haven't you called me? I said, I can't call everyone I want. My new phone has no five on it. He said, How long have you had it? I said, I don't know... My calendar has no sevens on it.

    September 7, 2011 at 21:37 | Report abuse | Reply

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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.