How Your Baby's Breastfeeding Spit-Up Fights Infections

For parents, dealing with germy backwash from sharing drinks with their children is a fact of life. But a new idea suggests that it could be a fact much, much earlier in life than you might have expected. As in, backwash during breastfeeding.

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This is not just bottles we're talking about, friends: I mean backwash straight back into the source. If the mental image of breast milk backwash makes you want to brush your boobs' teeth, you are not alone. If it helps, you can take some consolation in the fact that this is still just a hypothetical idea, not one anyone has tried to actually study in the lab. (Imagine being asked to be a part of that research study. "Yes, today we'll be checking to see if there's any baby slobber inside of you.")

But while it still needs empirical research to back it up, this is an idea with a pretty solid physical basis, and one with a lot of power to explain some of the "liquid gold" properties breast milk is touted to have. Breastfed babies have fewer ear infections, and they're less likely to suffer from gastrointestinal illness. This probably has to do with the antibodies -- immune system infection-fighting molecules -- passed to them via breast milk. In fact, the amount of antibodies in breast milk spikes not only when the nursing mother is ill and her body is cranking out antibodies to ward off infection, but also when her baby is sick. Since the immune system is not psychic, as far as current scientific knowledge is aware, it must have some way of sensing that there are germs running around in the baby's body.

More from The Stir: 10 Incredible Facts About Breast Milk You've Never Heard Before

So here's where baby backwash comes in. When a baby nurses, the sucking action creates a vacuum inside the nipple. And as we all learned in high school physics, nature abhors a vacuum; so on each break from suckling, a bit of the liquid inside the baby's mouth is going to be slurped back into the nipple. Gross; but also, cool: Now mom's body has a sampling of the germ situation baby has dealing with, and her immune system can manufacture antibodies as necessary to help.

As John Mayer wrote, your body is a wonderland. A disgusting, amazing wonderland. Congratulations on all the things it can do ... and try not to think too hard about them the next time your baby starts crying to be fed.

 

Image via © 3photo/Corbis

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