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I heard that antibodies are passed on from mother to child. Do antibodies get passed on through more than one generation? I mean, even if I breast feed my future children, will they still be missing out because I was not breast fed myself?
Question Date: 2007-12-22
Answer 1:

I really doubt that they will pass on like that.Again, it all comes down to genetics: if your childreninherit your genes, then they can produce yourantibodies. But they will only inherit half of yourgenes, and their children will inherit only half oftheir genes. Unless you happen to marry somebody withthe same immune genetics as you do, then they may nothave the same genes.

Answer 2:

No worries.Antibodies don't carry on to further generations. So you have the chance to give them what you may have missed out on yourself!

Answer 3:

If a baby was nursed by multiple women, it would get antibodies from all of them. The baby only needs the antibodies to things it encounters, so there would be no benefit to getting breast milk from someone who lived far away.

My granddaughter is 6 months old, and she is breast feeding. It's amazing that a big protein like an antibody can get into a baby's blood.I think this happens because the baby's intestines and digestive enzymes are not fully developed. In our bodies, enzymes break down proteins we eat into small pieces that can pass from the intestines to the blood.We can't absorb most proteins from food directly into our blood.

Answer 4:

These are great questions and I'm going to answer them together. You're right that infants get antibodies from their mothers. Mothers and their children are genetically different, so it is important to keep their immune systems from "fighting" during pregnancy. So the fetus does not have an active immune system until some time after it is born. The mother's immune system is also turned down, but we still don't know the detail of how she fights off infections without her body attacking her unborn child.

Since the infant will need to start fighting off infections as soon as it's born, it gets antibodies from its mother. This is called "passive immunity." However, these antibodies have the mother's "ID tags," on them, so as the baby's immune system starts working, it attacks them. This works out fine, because the antibodies are there when they're needed most, but after a few months, when the baby's immune system is working, they are destroyed. As a result, antibodies from the mother are not passed to her grandchildren through her daughter. They are long gone while her child is still a baby. So a child who was not breasting fed will not have fewer antibodies to pass on than a child who was.

In most mammals where this has been studied, babies get their antibodies from the special milk that mothers make right around birth. This special milk is called colostrums. It is full of antibodies and other important chemicals. Colostrums are more important in some mammals than others.

As you probably know, the placenta is the thing that acts as a life support system for the embryo or fetus before it is born. Oxygen and nutrients are delivered from the mother and waste products are passed to the mother for disposal. The blood of the mother and child don't really mix, they just come very close.

In cows and horses, antibodies can't cross the placenta. Calves and foals are much more likely to get sick if they do not get colostrums. Farmers keep frozen colostrums around for baby animals that can't get it from their mothers at birth. In humans and rats, antibodies actually cross the placenta from mother to fetus before birth. So in humans colostrums are less vital, but it is probably important.

If a child feeds from several women during the first month or two of life, it may get a bigger variety of antibodies, especially if the women it was nursing from were still producing colostrums and not regular breast milk.

A veterinarian will not give a puppy a vaccination while it still has passive immunity. Can you explain why?

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