Moms who solely breast-feed newborns for four months and include breast milk in the babies’ diets again for another two months (until age 6 months) might help prevent their infants from developing respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, according to a new study published in Pediatrics and reported byHealthDay News.

To assess breast milk’s immunity-boosting properties, researchers surveyed 4,200 women about breast-feeding and infectious diseases contracted by their infants. The women’s infants were between 6 months and 12 months old.

Researchers found that infants who were breast-fed exclusively for four months and at least partially for six months had a 50 percent reduced risk of lower respiratory infections and a 35 percent reduced risk of gastrointestinal illnesses compared with babies who weren’t.

“Our results support health policy strategies to promote exclusive breast feeding for at least four months and preferably six months in industrialized countries,” said senior study author, Henriette Moll, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Erasmus Medical Center’s Sophia’s Children’s Hospital in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. “This is in line with the World Health Organization recommendations for six months of exclusive breast feeding.”

Although it wasn’t exactly clear why breast-fed babies could better fend off infections, Moll suspected that immune globulin A (Iga), a component of breast milk, may have antimicrobial properties.

Doctors recommend breast feeding (unless there’s a health risk, such as HIV) because of its benefits against infectious disease. Some suggest breast-feeding education become a part of prenatal care so that women are well-prepared to breast-feed their babies.

Read how prenatal care and breast feeding can improve black babies’ survival rates here.