One of the most frequently touted benefits of breastfeeding is its immunological value. The antibodies contained in breast milk help babies battle infections and illnesses. When a mom gets sick, her body produces antibodies specific to that virus or bacteria. She then will pass those antibodies on to her baby through her breast milk, which can help protect her baby from getting sick.
Could breast milk be a possible treatment for the coronavirus?
Researchers studied the antibodies in the breast milk of fifteen mothers who have recovered from the COVID-19 virus. The study results showed that the milk in 80% of the women had a strong immune response to the coronavirus virus, which causes COVID-19.
Rebecca Powell, the senior author of the article and assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, studies the immune properties of human breast milk. She explained that the study started out looking at flu antibodies in breast milk.
“It seemed obvious to me that everything we don’t know about flu is a million times more unknown and relevant about COVID-19. I immediately felt the urgency to initiate a study,” Powell was quoted on Insider. Powell herself picked up the breast milk samples from mothers across the New York area.
Although the sample size of the study is admittedly small, the results are compelling. Powell tells Parentology that the research team would like to do more extensive testing of more milk samples.
Why It’s Important
While this preliminary data is reassuring for mothers who are breastfeeding, the research team has a bigger vision for the healing potential of mother’s milk. They are investigating the possibility of purifying the milk antibodies and using it as a therapeutic treatment for those infected with COVID-19.
“I am in the early phases with those types of collaborations. We are trying to navigate FDA approval,” Powell tells Parentology.
It is important to note that the results don’t guarantee that the antibodies produced will protect babies from getting COVID-19. After all, this is a new virus, and there is still much about it that is not yet known. The results do indicate that more research is warranted.
The Centers for Disease Control states that the limited data available suggests that COVID-19 is not spread through breast milk. They recommend that breastfeeding mothers who have the virus wear a mask during feedings as well as wash their hands before and after feedings. If a mother has elected to pump and bottle feed while she has the virus, she is advised to wear a mask during pumping sessions.
The study was a joint project between the Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, and Department of Microbiology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, and the Department of Psychology, at the University of California, Merced. The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. It was posted on medRxiv, an online archive and distribution server that shares complete but unpublished health research manuscripts.
According to their site, “Preprints are preliminary reports of work that have not been certified by peer review. They should not be relied on to guide clinical practice or health-related behavior and should not be reported in news media as established information.”
Breast Milk Coronavirus Treatment — Sources
Healthy Children – Breastfeeding Benefits Your Baby’s Immune System
Insider – New moms who’ve recovered from the coronavirus appear to have a ‘strong immune response’ to the disease in their breast milk
CDC – If You Are Pregnant, Breastfeeding, or Caring for Young Children