Covid-19: Can breastfeeding mothers transfer the virus to their babies? What the latest science says

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  • It was uncertain whether a mother could pass on Covid-19 to babies through breastfeeding
  • A new study, however, found that women do not transmit SARS-CoV-2 through their breastmilk
  • This means that newborns do not have to be separated from Covid-19 positive mothers

Gathering useful, relevant information is crucial amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in order to preserve the health of as many people as possible. 

One of the most important aspects pertains to how the virus is transmitted, and a recent study looked at whether mother-to-infant transmission can occur through breast milk. 

The researchers found that breastfeeding women do not transfer the virus through their milk. Instead, they identified milk-borne antibodies in the milk.

Testing for Covid-19 in breast milk samples

To conduct the study, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center analysed 37 milk samples from 18 women diagnosed with Covid-19. 

Results yielded from the test shows that no SARS-CoV-2 was detected in the samples, but that antibodies that are able to neutralise the virus were in fact detected.

And when the team took breast skin swabs, they found viral RNA on eight of the 70 breast skins they analysed. However, only one could be regarded as a conclusive positive result.

Infants should stay with mothers

This study also provides important evidence suggesting that mothers who test positive for Covid-19 should not be separated from their newborns.

“We only want to sequester a mother from her baby if it's medically necessary,” said co-author, Bridget Young. 

“However, the issue was very confusing for practitioners who don't have sufficient evidence. These early results suggest that breast milk from mothers who have had a Covid-19 infection contains specific and active antibodies against the virus, and that they do not transfer the virus through milk. This is great news!”

The researchers noted that although there are existing studies suggesting that breast milk can act as a vehicle for mother-to-infant transmission, these studies are limited in that they only had a few participants and did not report how the milk was collected or analysed.   

“This work needs to be replicated in larger cohorts. Additionally, we now need to understand if the Covid-19 vaccine impacts breast milk in the same way,” said Young. 

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