A few months ago, my mother-in-law came down with salmonella, so it’s been particularly fresh in my mind. Though she’s 100% vegan, she actually got it from unsanitary conditions at a local pub. The pub specialized in fancy raw egg cocktails for patrons. She ordered a regular cocktail, but the blender or mixer still contained traces of the egg, which is what gave her salmonella. The illness was worse than I ever could have imagined. For an entire month, she was vomiting daily, and her fatigue was impossible to deny. She was home from work, and her doctor was making home visits to make sure she was staying hydrated and healthy. She’s better now, but it got me wondering what such an illness could do to a weaker person, such as a baby.

It’s obviously extremely important that you prevent your baby from getting salmonella, but sometimes it isn’t as easy as keeping the utensils clean and cooking food thoroughly. Studies show that babies who are breastfed are less likely to come down with salmonella. The studies suggest that the breast milk itself doesn’t prevent the infection, but instead makes contact with other food substances minimal in the first few years of life. When you don’t breastfeed, you’ll need to give your baby formula every day, which could be contaminated. Breast milk could never be contaminated with salmonella assuming the mother is healthy. Also, concentrated formula that needs to be mixed with water could be contaminated by the water if it contains traces of salmonella. In that way, your baby or toddler could get it more easily by consuming food products from external sources.

Basically, any external food sources that your baby eats from could contain salmonella. Water sources are sometimes contaminated, and formula could be contaminated in the factory where it is made. However, it’s extremely unlikely. Water suppliers and formula companies are extremely cautious. Though chances are slim, it is definitely true that your baby has lower chances for getting sick when he is exclusively breastfeeding. Though, your fear of letting your baby get salmonella shouldn’t be the reason you decide to breastfeed. Plenty of babies are raised with absolutely no health problems while drinking formula, so only breastfeed if it fits in with your maternal philosophy and lifestyle. There are many benefits to breastfeeding, but healthy people are raised every day without ever having had breast milk.

Source: AA Zuppa et al: Breastfeeding and Infectious Diseases. Minerva Pediatrics Volume 62 Issue 4 pp. 397-409 August 2010

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