Breastfeeding women who have COVID-19 transfer milk-borne antibodies to their babies without passing along the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to a new study.
Researchers analyzed 37 milk samples submitted by 18 women diagnosed with COVID-19. None of the milk samples were found to contain the virus, but nearly two-thirds of the samples did contain two antibodies specific to the virus.
“The results indicate that it is safe for moms to continue to breastfeed during a COVID-19 infection with proper precautions,” said Courtney Meehan, a WSU anthropology professor and co-author on the study published Feb. 9 in the journal mBio.
Meehan and WSU graduate student Beatrice Caffé were part of the multi-institutional research team led by University of Idaho nutrition researcher Michelle “Shelley” McGuire on the project. The team also includes scientists from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and University of Rochester Medical Center.
The researchers are continuing work in this area and have now enrolled nearly 50 women who were diagnosed with COVID-19. They have followed their progress with the disease for as long as two months.
The initial study published in mBio reported on the first group of 18 women who submitted milk samples. Results from the larger study are forthcoming, but the researchers are confident that they will support, expand and confirm the initial findings, McGuire said.
Earlier, McGuire, Meehan and their colleagues published a related review of scientific studies focused on coronaviruses in human milk and found that scant evidence exists about their presence or absence.
That work, published in Maternal & Child Nutrition in May, found only one study that tested human milk for the related SARS coronavirus after that virus was detected in 2003. The review found no efforts to detect the subsequent and deadlier MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus in human milk.
The dearth of knowledge spurred this multi-university effort, which is informing national and global guidance related to COVID-19 and breastfeeding.
This research was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Medela and Milk Stork, the National Institutes of Health, WSU’s Health Equity Research Center and U of I’s Agricultural Experiment Station.