June 2021

Immunity development of the baby during pregnancy and after birth

The immune system is crucial for humans because it helps protect the body from any harmful effects. It develops before birth and is consolidated all throughout life. However, most important is the first nine months, when the foetus is protected in the body of its mother, and the first three years of life. At this time, the most important substances against pathogens are being formed that could be harmful to the child. The body's defenses are strengthened, autotolerance, antigens and immune surveillance are formed. During pregnancy, the foetus receives immune substances from the mother's body, and after birth responds to environmental influences. What is important for the proper development of a baby's immune system?


What is immunity?

The immune system is a mechanism that protects the human body. It can distinguish between harmful and non - harmless influences, both at the level of external and internal influences. It is one of the body's regulatory systems. The human body protects against pathogenic organisms and toxins, can respond to its own tissues and removes old, damaged or mutated cells. The immune system consists of signalling molecules and cells that communicate with each other, pass information to each other, and respond to potential threats to the body. These molecules and cells are then able to identify and remove external and internal pollutants that threaten the human body.

Individual cells arise from the same stem cells and only then take on a certain function. If they are viewed from a professional point of view, they specialise in a way according to the organ in which they mature. If the body is infected with a pathogen, an immune response begins. These reactions most commonly occur in lymphatic organs such as the mucous membranes, nodules, spleen, organs, or skin. When immunity is weakened or underdeveloped, major infections, allergic reactions, tumours, or autoimmune disease can occur. 

During one's development, one usually acquires two types of immunity. The first is non-specific or innate immunity. With this defense mechanism, the baby is born. It carries this genetic information from the moment the sperm fertilises the egg and the so-called zygote is formed. The non-specific immune system always reacts to pathogens in the same way, it does not develop or modify. In medical jargon, it is said that innate immunity has no memory.

Non-specific immunity at birth and during life is supplemented by specific or acquired immunity. And thus it is for the development of this immunity that the first three years of a child's life are the most important. During infancy and toddlerhood, acquired immunity develops through contact with external influences and pathogens. Unlike non-specific immunity, specific immunity has memory. This means that it can respond better to each subsequent encounter with a particular pathogen. It is easier to recognise the problem and help the body heal faster. Simply put, acquired immunity can be learned.





Development of immunity in foetuses and babies

Around the fifth week of pregnancy, the thymus, a key organ for immune system development, begins to develop. The thymus is one of the few organs that play its role especially after birth until about puberty, when it gradually begins to disappear. Thanks to it, cells are created in the human body that can recognise and fight pathogens (T-lymphocytes). Mothers who want to support the immunity of their unborn baby should avoid stress, live a proper lifestyle and be in a healthy environment. Doctors also recommend increasing the intake of vitamin D, zinc, essential fatty acids and probiotics. All these substances (as well as antibodies) reach the foetus from the mother's body through the placenta.

After birth, breastfeeding and breast milk are very important for the development of the immune system. It contains a lot of antibodies (leukocytes and probiotics), which, in addition, breastfeeding mothers create tailor-made for their baby. Therefore, even when breastfeeding, a woman should avoid stress and eat healthily. Like the placenta in pregnancy, breast milk is a mediator between mother and baby. 


How to recognise immune disorders?

Children are more often ill after commencing kindergarten. It is a natural phenomenon, because the child is suddenly in a larger group for a long time and comes in contact with a larger number of previously unknown pathogenic and infectious germs. Parents should be alert when infections recur, are prolonged and treatment does not work. Doctors say that if the child is ill every month and the infection lasts for more than a week, it is time for an immunological examination. 

It is therefore important to support children's immunity with a healthy diet and hardening. A child who grows up in an unhealthy environment has a weakened non-specific immunity and is more prone to disease. If a child has reduced specific immunity, this condition can be treated with vitamins, supplements or medications. If you have any doubts about your child's health and immunity, it is worth visiting a paediatrician, who will order special tests to detect the cause of illness and determine the appropriate choice of treatment in case of suspected weakened immunity.