Vaccines and Breastmilk

One of my facebook friends posted a link to an article provocatively titled_ CDC researchers say mothers should stop breastfeeding to boost 'efficacy' of vaccines.

About the only good thing I can say about that site is that they linked to the original paper so that I could read it. As it turns out, the article completely misrepresents the study and it's conclusions.

As background, you should know that vaccinations work by taking dead or attenuated (weakling) viruses and getting them into the body, which trains the child's immune system to recognize them. Breast milk also contains antibodies against many viruses, which can help defuse threats before they manage to cause serious infections in the kid.

This study focused on rotavirus vaccines that are given orally. What they found was that when breast milk and the vaccine are given at nearly the same time, the antibodies in the milk hit the dead viruses and neutralize them before the child's immune system has a chance to see them. As a result, the kid's immune system doesn't learn to recognize the threat, and the vaccine doesn't work.

Their recommendation is that the mother delay breast-feeding for a little while beforehand and a little while afterwards, to give the vaccine time to get into the kid before the breastmilk neutralizes it all_ "A short delay of breast-feeding at the time of immunization might be the least complicated intervention to improve the efficacy of these vaccines"

So no, they're emphatically not recommending that people stop breastfeeding altogether. They're just saying that by telling mothers to stagger their feeding a little bit, we can make the vaccine more effective and save thousands of lives! How cool is that?!

Another important point is that the study re-emphasizes how breastmilk helps defend kids against real viruses. One commenter, who has clearly been drinking the kool-aid, interpreted that to mean that breastmilk should be enough, and that maybe we should be getting rid of vaccines all together. That's a dangerous idea, because while breast milk is great, it just isn't enough.

Right now, about a half-million kids die every year from rotavirus, and 2 million more get severely ill. This happens even though lots of these kids are being breastfed. It's also important to note that once a child's immune system recognizes the threat, it'll remember that even after the kid is done breastfeeding. This means the vaccine helps keep toddlers safe too.

Nothing drives me crazier that people distorting science to try to push an agenda based on fear and wishful thinking. Vaccines save lives, and we need to keep spreading that message loud enough that it drowns out the dangerous and false information being spread by anti-vaccination proponents.

Moon SS, Wang Y, Shane AL, Nguyen T, Ray P, Dennehy P, Baek LJ, Parashar U, Glass RI, & Jiang B (2010). Inhibitory effect of breast milk on infectivity of live oral rotavirus vaccines. The Pediatric infectious disease journal, 29 (10), 919-23 PMID 20442687


Written by furtivezoog -

Hi Chris, Thank you for this post. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a way to access the original article, or a good idea of how much of a delay would be recommended. (I have also been looking around at secondary sources, but haven't found enough details, and prefer looking at the primary source whenever possible.) Would you be able to comment about how much of a time delay, if there some mention? For me, this seems to be another example of why there should be more open access to journal articles, especially for health and medical literature. As a parent of a breastfed-only five-month old who is being dutifully vaccinated, I would have good use for the information, if preliminary. Right now, our son is breastfed within minutes of a vaccination, while waiting in the car before the trip home, for comfort reasons and to help ensure that he doesn't get hungry and upset on the way. Access to the actual article would also make it easier to counteract bad information and rumors, of course. Thanks!

Written by Chris -

Yeah, I'd prefer an open-access article, but *shrug* what can you do? If you're having trouble snagging a copy, email me and I'll be happy to send one your way. chris@ this domain name.

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