Breastmilk and COVID: What can we learn?
By Alanna Iacovetti
As we all know, breastmilk is magical. Just one drop contains more than one million white blood cells that help to fight infection and diseases. It has long been proven that human milk protects babies against pneumonia, diarrhea, ear infections, asthma, and many other conditions like respiratory infections — but does it help provide extra protection against COVID?
While there was initially a fear that breastmilk could be a way to transmit COVID to infants, recent research has demonstrated that it is not a means of transmission for COVID, but rather for the milk-borne antibodies that can help neutralize the virus:
We confirm that the risk of any COVID-19, AOM, or headache in children is amplified for those who were never breastfed. In fact, approximately 1 in 25 had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2; on the other hand, among ever breastfed children, 1 in 60 had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
2021 Study from The International Breastfeeding Journal
James Estrin, The New York Times
Mothers who have been previously infected or vaccinated produce this protective antibody response in their breastmilk, and now, more and more women are choosing to extend their breastfeeding journey in hopes that it will provide their little ones with some extra immunological protection.
Noreen Malone, author of Slate's The Long-Haul Breastfeeders of COVID, states:
This year, I started to hear about more friends and friends of friends who were going a lot longer than the six months or one year of breastfeeding they might have aimed for before the pandemic, based on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations about breastfeeding. Among the women I spoke to about their pandemic feeding habits, going eighteen months or two years was relatively common.
Citing a survey shared with her by a group of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Johns Hopkins, and the University of North Carolina, Malone explained how the pandemic was affecting breastfeeding decisions:
[The] sample, which was disproportionately white and upper-middle-class, showed that more than 30 percent wanted to extend breastfeeding until the end of the pandemic, and a high proportion was able to do it during the early lockdowns. Many cited the immunological protection afforded by mother’s milk as the reason, along with the ease that working at home brought to breastfeeding.
According to The New York Times, some mothers who had already begun the weaning process even attempted to start the complicated process of re-lactation after they received their COVID-19 vaccine.
While this is incredible, we know that every parent’s circumstances are different and extended breastfeeding is not always an option. Know that whether you're nursing, pumping, combo-feeding, or formula feeding, you’re doing an epic job. There’s no shame in doing what works for you and your baby.
As always, fed is best!