Nest protection – what is it?
Protection against infections in newborns – babies receive the so-called nest protection while still in the womb. In the first months of life, it protects children from many diseases and gives them time to develop their own immune defenses.
The nest protection as an immune defense
The baby's belly is a very protected space for the unborn child. In the ca. 38 weeks from conception to birth, there it gets everything it needs for its development and life in the outside world. During pregnancy, the so-called placental barrier in the placenta ensures that most pathogens cannot reach the baby.
As soon as the baby sees the light of day, it is confronted with viruses, bacteria and other germs. His immune system must first learn to recognize pathogens and fight them effectively.
At the time of birth, his immune system is still a blank slate, on which in the future any contact with germs will leave its mark. In the first months of life, the nest protection ensures that the child is nevertheless well protected against many germs.
Nest protection – antibodies from the mother's blood
The baby receives most of the nest protection only in the last weeks before birth. The transfer of antibodies from the maternal blood to the fetal organism intensifies from the 34th week before birth. Week of pregnancy. The current immune status of the mother is thus transferred to the baby before birth. This transfer stops as soon as the umbilical cord is cut – however, the child is relatively well protected in the following months against those germs that actually exist in the mother's environment. In case of a new infection, the maternal antibodies in the child's organism are able to recognize these germs and fight them off.
In the event of a new infection, the antibodies are able to recognize these germs and fight them off. Due to the nest protection, the current immune status of the mother is transferred to the baby. This transfer breaks off as soon as the umbilical cord is cut – however, the child is relatively well protected in the following months against those germs that actually exist in the mother's environment.
From nest protection to independent immune defense
Breastfeeding children continue to receive antibodies from their mother's milk throughout the entire breastfeeding period, but these react more unspecifically to germs and tend to strengthen the immune system in general, as well as providing a certain degree of protection against gastrointestinal infections. In contrast, the nest protection transmitted prenatally via the blood enables defense reactions against specific pathogens.
It is strongest in the first two to three months of the baby's life and then decreases significantly. By the ninth month at the latest, nest protection is no longer present. During this time, the baby develops its own immune system. With each contact with germs it builds up its own antibodies. From the second month of life, the first vaccinations also contribute to this. The complete development of the immune system, however, still takes years.
Does the nest protection work against all germs?
However, nest protection also has its limits. It can only protect the baby against diseases whose antibodies are found in the mother's blood, i.e. diseases she has been exposed to herself or against which she has been vaccinated. These include childhood diseases such as measles, chickenpox or rubella, against which the child is initially immune thanks to nest protection. The nest protection is probably better and longer if the mother has been through the disease than if she has been vaccinated against it.
In the case of other diseases – such as whooping cough and influenza – the nest protection does not take effect or is incomplete, as the bacterial or viral strains change too quickly in these cases. Careful protection against such diseases and – if possible – early vaccination are particularly important.
Premature babies are particularly susceptible to infections, as they have little or no nest protection. Until the end of the 34th week. Only very few antibodies are transferred from the mother to the baby during the first week of pregnancy.
Children born before this time are almost entirely dependent on their own immune system from the beginning. In their first weeks of life, they need good protection against contact with potentially dangerous pathogens. In their first year of life, they are particularly susceptible to infections.
In the second half of life, the susceptibility to infections increases
When nest protection wears off, i.e. in the second half of the child's life at the latest, the susceptibility to infections increases. Babies who frequently meet other children or have older siblings who already go to kindergarten then hardly get rid of colds in the winter; pediatricians reckon with at least one infection a month during this time.
If the babies are still mostly at home at this age, this phase is usually postponed somewhat into the future. In addition, there are children who are rarely ill, which does not mean that their immune system is not developing.
Doctors refer to this phenomenon as "silent fever" – the body deals with infections and develops antibodies, without a clinical picture developing. It is certain that the frequency of illness in the first year of life has no influence on the health of the child later in life.
The so-called nest protection ensures that babies are protected from many pathogens in their first months of life. Your own immune system must first learn to fight germs.