When a baby is born, his immune system is still underdeveloped and it takes a long time for it to build completely. Some experts have also suggested that it may take years (till the child is 12 years old) for his immune system to develop properly. In this article, we will learn about what the immune system is, how it develops in your baby, how it is passed from mother to baby and foods you can feed your baby to improve his immunity against diseases and illnesses.
What is the Immune System?
Simply put, the immune system is a network of special cells, proteins, tissues and organs that protect and defend people against germs and microorganisms every day. Most of the time, our immune system does a fairly good job in keeping us healthy and preventing illnesses. However, sometimes, problems in immunity can lead to serious illnesses and infections as well.
How does our immune system work?
In a series of processes and steps called the immune response, our immune system fights foreign organisms and substances that attack our organs and cause diseases. Picture it this way, when bacteria, a virus or other foreign substances enter our body, while blood cells immediately identify them as an invasion and produce antibodies and other responses to fight the infection. These white blood cells also remember the foreign bodies so that they are better equipped to fight them the next time.
White blood cells are important cells and are also called leukocytes. They are of two basic types that combine to find and destroy organisms and substances that can potentially cause diseases.
The two basic types of leukocytes are:
- Phagocytes are cells that chew up invading organisms and
- Lymphocytes are cells that remember foreign invaders so that they can easily destroy them the next time.
Types Of Immunity
Immunity is of three types:
#1. Innate Immunity
This is the type of immunity that everyone is born with. It is also called natural immunity and is the most general form of protection. For example, there are some germs that can harm other species but it doesn’t affect us at all. Our skin is also considered to be a part of innate immunity as it is the first line of defence in preventing diseases from entering our body.
#2. Adaptive Immunity
This is the type of immunity that develops throughout our lives. As and when a foreign element enters our body, our immune system tackles it. This type of active immunity remembers the invaders and tackles it the next time easily.
#3. Passive immunity
Passive immunity is borrowed from another source and generally lasts for a short time. For example, if a breastfeeding mother has a cold, the antibodies in her system help her fight the cold. These antibodies are also passed on to her breastfeeding baby.
How Your Baby's Immune System Develops
As mentioned above, your baby’s immune system is sensitive, weak and underdeveloped. However, the silver lining comes from the mother’s ability to pass on immunity to her baby through the antibodies in her breast milk. This is a form of passive immunity. A mother’s breast milk contains many immunoglobulins that fight bacteria and viruses. This is also why formula-fed babies fall sick more than babies who are breastfed. However, this passive immunity passed on from the mother at birth doesn’t last for a long time and will decrease in the first few months after birth.
It is interesting to note that your baby’s immune system is already starting to build itself while he is in your womb. Antibodies are passed from the mother to the baby through the placenta during the third trimester of pregnancy. This is how the baby gets some protection from germs and viruses when he is suddenly brought into the outside world. The amount and type of antibodies that are transferred from the mother to the baby also depends on the health and immunity of the mother. When the baby is delivered through a mother’s vagina, the bacteria is passed on to the baby. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the bacteria in the gut (gastrointestinal tract) also contributes to your baby’s immunity.
With time, babies are able to produce their own antibodies every time they are exposed to a virus or germ, but it takes time for this immunity to fully develop.
Best Ways to boost your baby’s immune system
Every time your baby gets sick, new antibodies are being developed to protect them in the future. To strengthen your baby's immunity, some of the things that you can do include Breastfeeding, Vaccination, and a good and healthy diet.
If you want to know which foods can improve your baby’s immunity, take a look at this helpful article - Top Superfood to Improve babies Immunity