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!