A study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reveals that each individual’s breast milk contains a unique combination of antibodies that remain stable throughout lactation and across pregnancies.
These antibodies play a crucial role in a baby’s early immunity and offer insights into why infants vary in their protection against infections and their susceptibility to necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).. NEC is more prevalent in formula-fed infants compared to those fed breast milk and has been associated with Enterobacteriaceae bacteria.
The study suggests that the variation in infants’ immunity to NEC stems from the diverse antibodies passed down by different mothers. The researchers analyzed donor breast milk and observed distinct antibody profiles among donors, indicating that breast milk antibodies reflect the variability in women’s lives, microbiomes, and encounters with infections.
The study also found that antibody composition remains stable within donors across pregnancies and between different infants. Additionally, pasteurization of donor milk reduces antibody levels, highlighting the need for further research to determine the protective antibody levels against diseases like NEC.
Understanding the specific bacteria that pose a risk for preterm infants with NEC could aid in the development of antibodies for formula or breast milk supplementation to enhance immunity.