Science Explains How A Mother’s Immunity Transfers to Baby Before Birth

Science Explains How A Mother’s Immunity Transfers to Baby Before Birth



The parents of a newborn baby couldn’t be more thrilled. After all, they have a new bundle of joy in their arms to love and cherish! But being a new parent also comes with its fair share of anxieties – and for good reason! One worry they don’t need to have is immunity. Baby is born with the strength of the mother’s immune system.

Babies are fragile and new to the world. Their brains are still developing, as are the rest of their bodies. They don’t know what’s dangerous and what isn’t, and, even more worryingly, they are much more susceptible to infections and disease.

The answer to protection against preventable diseases is usually vaccinations. But newborns cannot have most of the vaccines that can protect them as their immune systems are not strong enough to respond positively to them. This is where maternal vaccines come in, administered to pregnant expectant mothers to boost a fetus’ immunity.


But there’s a limit to the capabilities of the transference of a mother’s immunity to their babies. As such, researchers are always looking to find new ways to improve this link – and a recent study indicates that may be possible.

Science Explains How A Mother’s Immunity Is Transferred To Her Child Before Birth

1.    Risks To Newborns Without A Mother’s Immunity

Newborn babies are extremely fragile in health. In their first 28 days of life, they are at high risk for developing severe conditions that can lead to fatalities. Birth complications, asphyxia, and infections make up a shocking 80% of causes for neonatal death. Infant mortality rates can be anxiety-inducing as well, with figures like:

  • In the first 28 days, 18 in 1,000 babies will pass away.
  • After the first 28 days but before they turn one year old, 12 in 1,000 babies will pass away.
  • After the age of one but before the age of five, 5 in 1,000 children will pass away.

While trying to use a mother’s immunity to protect a baby may not work for certain complications, fatalities through infection can be greatly prevented through them. In order to understand this, let’s take a deeper look at how viral infections can become deadly in newborns.

Newborn babies cannot receive vaccinations, with most only starting administration when they reach 2 months of age. Babies’ immune systems are not yet strong enough to safely receive vaccines, but they are also not strong enough to protect themselves against potential threats. This means the double threat of a weak immunity with an inability to receive vaccines puts them at high risk.


Baby vaccination schedule

The general vaccination schedule for a baby, until they reach 15 months of age, is as follows:

  • After birth: Dose 1 of Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Between 1 and 2 months: Dose 2 of Hepatitis B vaccine
  • 2 months: Dose 1 of:
    • Diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine
    • Rotavirus vaccine
    • Haemophilus influenza type b vaccine
    • Inactivated poliovirus vaccine
    • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine
  • 4 months: Dose 2 of:
    • Diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine
    • Rotavirus vaccine
    • Haemophilus influenza type b vaccine
    • Inactivated poliovirus vaccine
    • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine
  • 6 months: Dose 3 of:
    • Diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine
    • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine
  • Between 6 and 15 months: Annual influenza vaccine, and dose 3 of:
    • Hepatitis B vaccine
    • Inactivated poliovirus vaccine
  • Between 12 and 15 months: Additional dose of:
    • Haemophilus influenza type b vaccine
    • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine
  • 15 months: Dose 4 of Diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine

Additional dosages may also be required for a variety of these vaccines, but that depends on the individual baby and their doctors best orders. At any time after 6 months, babies may also receive vaccines against:


  • Varicella
  • Measles, mumps, rubella
  • Meningococcal
  • Hepatitis A

But what happens until then? Do you just have to stomach the risks with positive thinking and hope for the best while doing all you can to shelter your child? According to a new study, you may not have to do so for long. (1)

2.    How A Mother’s Immunity Can Be Transferred

The research entitled “Fc Glycan-Mediated Regulation of Placental Antibody Transfer” was published at the end of June in the journal Cell, explaining how this seemingly impossible feat can be accomplished with positive results. The study authors, in alphabetical order, are as follows: (2)

Study authors

  • Aniruddh Sarkar
  • Arnaud Marchant
  • Arthur Y. Kim
  • Barney S. Graham
  • Carolyn M. Boudreau
  • Cormac Cosgrove
  • Douglas Lauffenburger
  • Francesca J. Noelette
  • Galit Alter
  • Georg M. Lauer
  • Ilona Goldfarb
  • Jasneet Aneja
  • Jennifer H. Cooperrider
  • Jishnu Das
  • Joelle Brown
  • Laura E. Riley
  • Madeleine F. Jennewein
  • Marina Krykbaeva
  • Matthew J. Gorman
  • Sepideh Dolatshahi
  • Stephanie Fischinger
  • Tessa Goetghebuer
  • Todd J. Suscovich

To begin with, let’s talk about what mothers already pass on to their children. When they first develop, fetuses are completely clean slates – their immune systems are clueless as to what they need to defend against. A mother’s placenta forms in order to provide antibody transference to these fetuses, providing them with protection against a variety of threats.

Maternal antibodies

In some cases, maternal antibodies from a placenta can be easily moved to the baby within, serving as one of the first examples of a mother’s immunity being transferable. But for diseases like polio, that immunity becomes harder to pass on.

The researchers wondered if the placenta may hold the key for a mother’s immunity, and therefore, they decided to investigate. They used systems serology, which is a highly innovative tool designed for vaccine and immunity research, to analyze antibodies from certain blood samples, taken from umbilical cords and mothers.

These antibodies were ones used against pertussis, and scientists compared them against each other in quality and quantity. Findings revealed that the placenta actually can sift through certain antibodies and deliver them to infants, leading to the activation of cells known as natural killer cells. These natural killer cells are crucial in the formation of a working immunity.

These types of cells are apparently the most functional of all cells involved in immunity and are therefore the most effective. They are also the most abundantly found in newborns, making them the more reliable of the available immune system cells.


Researchers discovered that placentas can transfer certain antibodies that are designed to trigger natural killer cells against conditions such as respiratory syncytial virus and influenza. This indicates that future vaccines can be designed with this in mind, allowing for the encouragement of the right antibodies transferring from a mother’s immunity to their children.

Moving forward

What’s next for this research to continue in a positive direction? The goal is to be able to make maternal vaccines, injected during the correct and most effective time during an expectant mother’s pregnancy. This can be done to provide much-needed assistance to babies, protecting them in ways that were not previously possible. The researchers are also currently studying immunity in infants to create even more effective vaccines.

3.    Current Ways To Improve A Baby’s Immunity

Sure, we all know that a healthy diet and exercise are crucial for immunity. But when your baby is brand new to the world, these things don’t apply to them the same way. They are completely reliant on you! So how can you ensure that you are keeping them safe and protective? How can you set your fears to rest and focus on positive thinking?

Here are a few tips that you can use to ensure that your baby is as protected as can be:

·         Keep Them Warm

The cold can wreak havoc on anyone’s immunity. It’s why so many people fall ill after being in low temperatures. As such, you’ll want to keep your little one warm. Just a bit of a cold can lead to a huge degradation of their immune system.

·         Go For Balanced Foods

Newborn babies don’t eat proper foods yet – but if you’re breastfeeding, they eat from you! This means that you have to make sure that the food you’re consuming is good, so you can pass nutrients onto your little one.

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