Exposure to non-inherited maternal antigens by breastfeeding affects antibody responsiveness

Henk Schonewille, Jon J. van Rood, Esther P. Verduin, Leo M. G. van de Watering, Geert W. Haasnoot, Frans H. J. Claas, Dick Oepkes, Enrico Lopriore, Anneke Brand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The observation, by Ray Owen and colleagues in 1954, that D-negative women were less likely to form anti-D antibodies against their D-positive fetus if their mother possessed the D-antigen, was not found in all later studies. We hypothesized that breastfeeding, received by the mother, may affect her immunity against non-inherited maternal red blood cell antigens. We studied a cohort of 125 grandmother- mother-child combinations, from a follow-up study of mothers after intrauterine transfusion of the fetus for alloimmune hemolytic disease. For mismatched red blood cell antigens the mother was exposed to, whether or not antibodies were formed, we determined whether her mother, the grandmother, carried these antigens. The duration for which the mothers were breastfed was estimated by way of a questionnaire. Using multivariate logistic regression analyses, the interaction term (noninherited maternal antigen exposure by categorized breastfeeding period) showed that a longer breastfeeding period was associated with decreased alloimmunization against non-inherited maternal antigens (adjusted odds ratio 0.66; 95% confidence interval 0.48-0.93). Sensitivity analysis with dichotomized (shorter versus longer) breastfeeding periods showed that this lower risk was reached after two months (aOR 0.22; 95% CI 0.07-0.71) and longer duration of breastfeeding did not seem to provide additional protection. These data suggest that oral neonatal exposure to non-inherited maternal red blood cell antigens through breastfeeding for at least two months diminishes the risk of alloimmunization against these antigens when encountered later in life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-268
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes

Cite this