Although acquisition of anti-pertussis antibodies by the newborn via placental transfer has been demonstrated, a subsequent recrudescence of pertussis infection is often observed, particularly in infants. The present study investigated the passive transfer of anti-pertussis IgG and IgA antibodies to term newborns and their ability to neutralize bacterial pathogenicity in an in vivo experimental model using mice intracerebrally challenged with viable Bordetella pertussis. Forty paired samples of maternal/umbilical cord sera and colostrum were obtained. Anti-pertussis antibodies were analysed by immunoenzymatic assay and by Immunoblotting. Antibody neutralizing ability was assessed through intracerebral B. pertussis challenges in mice. Anti-pertussis IgG titres were equivalent in both maternal and newborn sera (medians = 1:225 and 1:265), with a transfer rate of 118%. The colostrum samples had variable specific IgA titres (median = 1:74). The immunoblotting assays demonstrated identical recognition profiles of paired maternal and newborn serum pools but different bacterial recognition intensities by colostrum pools. In the animal model, significant differences were always observed when the serum and colostrum samples and pools were compared with the positive control (P < 0.05). Unlike samples with lower anti-pertussis titres, samples with high titres showed protective capacities above 50%. Pertussis-absorbed serum and colostrum pools protected 30% of mice and purified IgG antibodies protected 65%. Both pooled and single-sample protective abilities were correlated with antibody titres (P < 0.01). Our data demonstrated the effectiveness of anti-pertussis antibodies in bacterial pathogenesis neutralization, emphasizing the importance of placental transfer and breast-feeding in protecting infants against respiratory infections caused by Bordetella pertussis.