Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. This infection causes these membranes (the meninges) to become inflamed, which in some cases can damage the nerves and brain and therefore thinking about breastfeeding to protect your baby is excellent news.
Meningitis can be viral or bacterial and it is usually the bacterial meningitis that is more serious and causes serious damage to the individual. The types of bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis vary according to the infected individual’s age.
In premature babies and newborns up to three months old, common causes are group B streptococci group B which normally inhabit the vagina and are mainly a cause during the first week of life and bacteria that normally inhabit the digestive tract such as e-coli. Listeria monocytogenes may affect the newborn and occurs in epidemics.
Older babies and children are more commonly affected by Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) and Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Meningitis in children under five is often caused by Haemophilus influenzae type B.
There have been numerous studies over a long period of time which proved that breastfeeding has substantial protective effect against meningitis.
One of the studies conducted in Sweden showed that breastfeeding protected babies against meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae type B up to 10 years post- breastfeeding. The study can be found here; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10195681 and also here; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9169183
Breastfeeding offers some level of protection against meningitis type B and meningitis type C which are caused by bacteria Neisseria meningitidis. Meningitis type B or C are not that common but they are very serious. However, more studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of breastfeeding against these two types of meningitis.