- Parents are sharing breast milk with COVID-19 antibodies in an attempt to help protect their children.
- It’s unclear how protective milk is and sharing it outside of a milk bank can be risky.
- Lactating women giving antibody-rich milk to their older children is harmless, but may not be worth it.
- Visit the Insider home page for more stories.
Some parents looking to protect their children from COVID-19 are turning to an unconventional elixir: breast milk that contains COVID-19 antibodies.
Some who cannot or can no longer breastfeed seek it from moms in their communities or online, and other breastfeeding women are hiding it in their older children’s meals, reported Kevin Dugan of Intelligencer.
Research has shown that vaccinated and previously infected mothers develop protective COVID-19 antibodies in breast milk.
But it’s unclear how effective they are at preventing illness in babies, how much milk would offer protection, and how long that protection would last. Sharing breast milk outside of a milk bank can also be risky, and most children do not become infected with COVID-19 as easily as young and old adults, nor do they tend to get as sick if they do.
But some parents say that in the absence of an approved vaccine for little ones, it is worth the risk of using breast milk. “If there’s a way I can do something that offers a level of protection to my son, I’d like to try it,” Courtney Carson, a mother of a four-month-old in Brooklyn whom Dugan interviewed, told Good Morning America.
What we know about COVID-19 antibodies in breast milk
At the beginning of the pandemic, research showed how mothers who have had COVID-19 can transmit protective antibodies in the womb and through breast milk.
Study author Rebecca Powell told Insider that her most recent research, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, has shown that protection appears to last up to 10 months, the longest time her team has ever done. been able to track previously infected mothers.
“We’re finding that these antibodies are really, very long-lasting, which is great,” said Powell, an assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine.
However, it encourages everyone, including breastfeeding people who have had COVID-19, to get vaccinated. Not only is it safer than contracting COVID-19, recent studies have shown that pregnant people who receive the COVID-19 vaccine also transmit antibodies to their babies in the womb and through breast milk, potentially protecting newborns. of the virus when they are most vulnerable.
But there is still much to learn about how strong and long-lasting is the protection generated by the COVID-19 vaccine in babies, as well as whether one vaccine is better for breastfeeding mothers than others. “If there was interest and money in research, we could always design vaccines with breastfeeding women in mind,” Powell said.
Sharing milk outside of a milk bank carries risks
The potential benefits of any type of antibody-laced breast milk now have some parents who are unable or no longer breastfeeding to search online for friends, neighbors, and strangers. Carson, the mother of Intelligencer and GMA, is one of them. He received three offers after asking about it on the Brooklyn parents’ Facebook app.
But the FDA advises against sharing breast milk that way (rather than going through a milk bank), as it can transmit infectious diseases, drugs, environmental pollutants, and drug metabolites. By evaluating more than 100 samples of breast milk sold online before the pandemic, the scientists found that most had disease-causing bacteria, some of which looked so much like sewage water.
Shared breast milk can also be handled inappropriately. The “risks definitely outweigh any potential benefits,” said ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton at GMA.
Powell told Insider that if you’re going to fetch or share breast milk, the safest bet is to do it with someone you know very well. “Sharing milk can be a really great thing, but you have to know the risks and the context,” he said. “Getting it anonymously is probably not the way to go.”
Some lactating women are giving their older children breast milk with COVID-19 antibodies
Some mothers with breast milk rich in COVID-19 antibodies are rethinking its value in their own families.
Powell said she has received emails from nursing mothers wondering if they should wait longer to wean their children or express their antibody-laden milk in order to increase their older children’s eggs and sippy cups.
“It took a pandemic for people to think and realize [that] there have always been really good things in her milk, “said Powell, who is currently breastfeeding her 3-year-old son.
There are no risks in giving breast milk to older children, he said, but it is unclear if doing so would offer much protection against COVID-19, as children’s diets are more varied than those of babies. Quantity, then, is the limiting factor, he said, and parental reassurance and time are also important.
“If it’s something easy to do and it makes you happy,” Powell said, “there is no harm.” On the other hand, no one should feel pressured to express milk for their older children or try to breastfeed again. “There is not enough data to say that it absolutely should do that,” he said. “There is enough pressure on the moms to begin with.”