The immune system is the body’s own defense against infections which are triggered by pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Most attacks from outside are averted by the human immune system, without us even noticing. Only when symptoms occur such as coughing, runny nose, nausea, diarrhea and fever do we notice that our immune system is fighting against foreign bodies and trying to neutralize them.
Our immune system protects the body against infections and is a complicated interaction with the organs, cells and molecules, which each have their specific role to play. The gut flora and the intestine play a very important role. A baby’s intestine is still immature and insufficiently colonized by “good”, pathogen-defense bacteria. Therefore, a baby’s immune system, in the womb and shortly after birth, is not yet able to effectively fight pathogens. The infant is dependent on what is known as “passive immunity”. The baby receives this protective function through the mother’s antibodies and other immunologically active substances, which they get through the breast milk. Especially the antibody-rich colostrum, the foremilk, which is produced in the first hours and days following birth, contains lots of these important antibodies.
During the first months following birth, the child’s gut flora develops, as babies receive natural, probiotic lactic acid cultures (e.g. lactobacilli or bifidobacteria cultures) and prebiotic dietary fibers (breast milk oligosaccharides) from breast milk. These serve as “food” for the beneficial lactic acid cultures.
This is why modern infant formula also contain natural lactic acid cultures or prebiotic oligosaccharides, to also provide non-breastfed infants with healthy gut flora, which is so important for the immune system.