Breast is best. At least that’s what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and a whole list of other medical and scientific institutions have to say. You would be hard pressed to find a pediatrician (or any other medical professional for that matter) who would disagree with the fact that breastfeeding is not only a natural and beneficial source of nutrition, but also a newborn’s first line of defense against a multitude of illnesses and diseases. For many women, myself included, breastfeeding provides a unique and emotional connection between a mother and her baby that is often difficult to put into words. Some of the most peaceful and memorable moments with my children were spent in their first few months of life during a 3 A.M. feeding. It is an experience I am grateful to have had.
All that being said I have recently noticed a disturbing number of comments, and flat out misinformation regarding the importance of combining the naturally immune boosting power of breast milk with the life-saving power of vaccinations. While exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life has proven to provide a protective effect against “respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases, and allergies” as well as a decrease in the rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and a reduction in adolescent and adult obesity, it does not provide the necessary protection against vaccine-preventable diseases that can only be obtained through immunizations as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). While breastfeeding may provide short-term protection for a newborn, this protection is extremely limited and not specific for most vaccine-preventable diseases. Breastfeeding, while important, simply cannot replace the long-term protection a child develops from vaccination. In fact, breastfeeding and vaccines go hand-in-hand as an increased effectiveness of immunizations has been seen in breastfed babies, specifically with an increase in protection against polio, tetanus, and diphtheria vaccines.
Infants are vulnerable from the moment of birth to a host of illnesses and breastfeeding is the best initial method of protection for a precious new life. However, the power of breast milk only reaches so far and immunizations are necessary, in conjunction with breastfeeding, to provide the broad spectrum of coverage needed to protect infants from vaccine-preventable diseases. Just think of breastfeeding and vaccines like pickles and ice cream. Ask any pregnant woman…they just go together!
As the holiday season kicks into full swing with Thanksgiving on Thursday, most of us gather around the table and take time to reflect on the year that has almost passed and give thanks for all the blessings in our lives. We all acknowledge the big reasons to be thankful; our health, family, and friends; but have you ever stopped to think of some of the not so obvious reasons to give thanks? I know I am certainly guilty of taking for granted things that affect my life each and every day. What are a few of these overlooked blessings? What about our country. Yes, I am aware of the great controversies and divisions between our nation’s political parties, but at the end of the day, I am beyond thankful to live in a country where I am free to pursue my dreams, speak my mind, and believe what I want to believe. Another blessing we should all toast on Thanksgiving: vaccines. How fortunate are we to live in a place where we have access to life-saving vaccines. We often fail to remember that just one generation ago there was no stopping polio, mumps, measles, pertussis, and a whole list of other, now very preventable diseases. Let’s not forget that there are still people worldwide who do not have the access to this scientifically proven necessity in the fight against more than two dozen diseases. There are places in Africa where parents will walk for miles and stand in lines for days just for the opportunity to provide their child with a vaccine. Why do these parents go to such lengths when many of us barely give a second thought to a scheduled immunization or even complain about having to take off work for an appointment? These parents have seen first-hand the devastating effects of rotavirus and pertussis. They have lost loved ones and have seen the fatal consequences associated with an unvaccinated society. Vaccines truly are a privilege that we should give thanks for each and every day.
I hope you all have a safe and happy Thanksgiving and don’t forget to remember the little things in your life. They may be a bigger blessing than you realize!
Today marks a day of reflection and thankfulness for my family because exactly one year ago my husband suffered a massive heart attack at the ripe old age of 31. At the time, our son was two-and-a –half and our daughter was just four months old. I vividly remember watching him being taken away in the ambulance and wondering if I would be left alone to care for these two little children. Terrifying does not even begin to describe the events of that morning. I rushed to the hospital and upon arrival I was beyond thankful for the skilled hands of all the doctors and nurses that worked to save my husband’s life that day. This past year has been filled with challenges and a search for our “new normal” and I am proud to say that despite some difficulties in the beginning, we survived and are stronger because of it.
When I think of the changes and additions we have incorporated into our lives over the past tweleve months the obvious heart healthy modifications of diet and exercise come to mind, but there is another very important item that my husband and our family simply could not do without; vaccines. As my husband was getting ready to be discharged from the hospital his nurse asked if he had received his annual flu vaccine, explaining that it was even more important now than ever that he be vaccinated. He was hesitant, citing the age old myth of contracting the flu from the flu shot as his reasoning. His nurse explained that not only was it simply impossible for the vaccine to cause the very virus it aimed to protect from, but as a heart attack victim he was now considered to be at a higher risk of flu related complications. Having just had a near death experience, he decided that flu shot sounded like a good idea. And believe it or not, the flu vaccine can do more than just prevent the flu. It can protect from heart attacks according to research by Dr. Jacob Udell, a cardiologist at Women’s College Hospital at the University of Toronto. In Udell’s study, the flu vaccine had approximately a 50% reduction in not only heart attacks, but also strokes and other major cardiac events. How could a flu shot have a positive effect on your heart health? Two explanations seem to be plausible. First, receiving an annual flu vaccine may protect patients who are already considered to be at a higher risk of flu related complications from one more illness that could “dip them over the edge.” Vaccination also provides protection from inflammation which has long been linked to cardiovascular problems and is a consequence of the flu.
The events that played out a year ago were life changing and have forever left an imprint on our lives. Every day we are thankful for second chances and we will continue to do everything in our power to avoid repeating the past. While diet and exercise are key elements of my husband’s continued heart healthy lifestyle, vaccines are an important piece to the puzzle. By receiving his annual flu vaccine he is doing all he can to protect not only his heart, but the health of his family and loved ones.
As a self-professed sugar junkie you would think Halloween would be my favorite holiday, but the truth is I can’t stand it. As a kid I would beg my dad to take me to a haunted house. We would stand in a very long line for a very long time only for me to back out right before it was our turn to enter. I have never (and will never) see a true “slasher” film. It’s just not my thing. And based on my three-year-old son’s response to seeing everyone running around in bloody attire and “Scream” masks I think he might be on my team! When I think of Halloween I see gory, frightening images that I find unsettling and disturbing. I know it’s not real. These creatures that ring my doorbell once a year trolling for candy cannot hurt me, but it still makes me shutter.
But there are images in the world that we should be afraid to see. There are very real “monsters” that continue to pose a serious threat. What should people be afraid of? How about measles, pertussis, or polio? What about the human papilloma virus (HPV) that is linked to multiple forms of cancer? I don’t like to see disturbing images so I will not force any of you to unintentionally view pictures that might be considered upsetting, but if you are curious to know just how scary these vaccine-preventable diseases are simply search the internet. It is truly frightening to see the damaging toll these illnesses take on a human body. And it is all the more tragic knowing that there is an easy way to prevent them from happening in the first place. Far too many people think that certain vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles or polio are ghosts of the past; that no one actually contracts these illnesses anymore, but it’s just not true. Polio has not been eradicated and there are measles outbreaks every year. Others believe in the existence and power of vaccine-preventable diseases but cite a greater benefit from “natural infection” versus immunization. As Dr. Paul Offit of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia states, “The difference between vaccination and natural infection is the price paid for immunity.” He goes on to explain that both immunization with vaccines and immunity gained from natural infection induce long-lived immunity, but natural infection can be costly. Is the price of immunity through natural infection worth contracting pneumonia from chickenpox, mental retardation from Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), birth defects from rubella, or death from measles? Of course not.
If scary monsters and fictional chain saw wielding characters are your cup of tea then I hope you had a happy and safe Halloween, but never allow the frightful consequences of vaccine-preventable diseases to enter into your life. Vow to stop these preventable diseases in their tracks before they come ringing your doorbell looking for their next victim.