The Transfer of Immunity from Mother to Child

Lars Å. Hanson, Marina Korotkova, Samuel Lundin, Liljana Håversen, Sven-Arne Silfverdal, Inger Mattsby-Baltzer, Birgitta Strandvik, Esbjörn Telemo
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences Volume 987 Issue IMMUNE MECHANISMS AND DISEASE , Pages 199 – 206, 2003


The newborn’s immune system grows fast from a small size at birth by exposure primarily to the intestinal microflora normally obtained from the mother at and after birth. While building up its immune system, the infant is supported by the transplacental IgG antibodies, which also contain anti-idiotypic antibodies, possibly also actively priming the offspring. The second mode of transfer of immunity occurs via the milk. Numerous major protective components, including secretory IgA (SIgA) antibodies and lactoferrin, are present.

The breastfed infant is better protected against numerous common infections than the non-breastfed. Breastfeeding also seems to actively stimulate the infant’s immune system by anti-idiotypes, uptake of milk lymphocytes, cytokines, etc. Therefore, the breastfed child continues to be better protected against various infections for some years. Vaccine responses are also often enhanced in breastfed infants. Long-lasting protection against certain immunological diseases such as allergies and celiac disease is also noted.


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