On September 15, 11:56pm, Willow Grace Paparella was born.  She was 9 weeks early.  The good news is that she is beautiful, and has done very well this last month.  The great news is that she might just be able to come home this friday!

Baby girl, we are all ready for you here!  My wife has spent the last month mostly in the NICU, working at breastfeeding around the clock.  Breastfeeding beats everything else, in terms of how quickly babies grow, and especially in terms of conferred secondary immune response.

Direct breastfeeding is best, because this way none of Liz’ secretory immunoglobulin A antibodies are denatured in the freezing and thawing process.  These sIgA molecules, by the way, move across the mucosa because of the secretory attachment to the IgA molecule, and attach to the lining of the nose, mouth, and throat.  There they bind to and disrupt whatever antigens they correspond to.  And this leads to the second reason why direct breastfeeding is best.  Even if frozen milk didn’t degrade these antibodies, it would put them in a holding pen for as long as the milk was frozen.  Liz produces proportionally more immune molecules according to whatever her immune system is stimulated by at the time she produces the milk.  Delay the consumption of the milk, and Willow is getting out-of-date defenses.

Now in addition to the immunoglobulin molecules, Liz also gives Willow leukocytes, about 5 million per milliliter.  These are mostly macrophages, bacteria-eaters.  But about 10% of them are memory T cells, antibody-producing cells, and killer T cells.  These are the sorts of cells necessary to have any hope of fighting off a virus and remembering the immune response to it.  There is evidence, based off of animal studies, that some of these cells manage to get incorporated into Willow’s nascent immune response  (Wold and Adlerberth, 1998).  The cells need to still be alive for that to happen, of course, so direct is best.

This is why Liz has really done the best thing by staying up at the NICU for these last several weeks.  She had to be physically present to give our little girl her best shot at growing and to protect her with the best possible boost to her immune response.  And by staying in the envionment where Willow lives right now, she exposed her own immune response to whatever antigens sneaked into the NICU, responded within her own body to them, and conferred the right sIgA’s at the right time to Willow to fight them off.

So to everybody who has brought food, watched our kiddos, and generally helped out, thank you. You’ve really helped Willow to get a good start in life, and you’ve helped us to do what we can to protect her.