Breastfeeding transmits Covid antibodies but not the virus, studies find

While vaccinated mums pass on coronavirus antibodies to their babies through breastfeeding, those with the virus don’t appear to infect their children, two different studies found.

According to a peer-reviewed study published in Paediatric Research on Tuesday, no infectious Covid-19 virus was found in the breast milk of 110 lactating women who had tested positive.

Researchers from the University of California found that breast milk did not contain the infectious virus, or represent a risk factor for transmission of infection to infants.

‘We found no evidence that breast milk from mothers infected with Covid-19 contained infectious genetic material and no clinical evidence was found to suggest the infants got infected, which suggests breastfeeding is not likely to be a hazard,’ said Paul Krogstad, lead author of the study.

The study is the largest of its kind so far and supports a number of smaller studies with similar findings, the researchers said.

This is in line with guidance from health organisations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organisation, which recommend mums continue breastfeeding during the pandemic.  

Another study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that breastfeeding could also help protect newborns from Covid if the mum had recently recovered from the virus or been vaccinated.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studied 30 lactating women in the US – most of them healthcare workers – who had been vaccinated between January and April 2021.

Antibodies were detected in children from 1.5 months to 23 months old, suggesting the benefits of breast milk against Covid-19 are not limited by age.

‘This is really important because women want to know whether their babies have these antibodies, and our study shows that antibodies are being transferred via breast milk,’ said Professor Kathleen Arcaro, senior author of the study.

‘Providing this compelling evidence is motivation for women to continue breastfeeding after they receive the vaccine,’ she said.

The level of protection passed down from mums to their babies was also linked to what vaccine side effects they experienced.

Women who felt sick from the vaccine were associated with greater antibodies in the infant’s stool.

‘This research is the first to detect SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in stool samples from infants of vaccinated mothers,’ said lead author Vignesh Narayanaswamy.

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