Can Breast Milk Transmit COVID-19?

Many people have been affected by COVID-19 pandemic since its outbreak 1 year ago. This has been a concern regarding this issue especially pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Their concern is whether the virus can be transmitted to the fetus and to the breastfed child.

The Question is, Can Breast Milk Transmit the COVID-19 Virus?

Research has been done in 46 mother-infant dyads or pairs who had their breast milk sampled for COVID-19 virus. All the mothers are tested COVID-19 positive. Investigation results found that 43 breastmilk were negative of coronavirus meanwhile the rest were positive via rt-PCR. Further investigation has been conducted and it is found out one out of three infants is tested positive for COVID-19 infection. Although positive, it is still unsure how the breast milk contains the virus as more investigation needed to be done.

There are limitations to this study as the virus itself is new and a lot of unknowns about it. It is unclear how the child got infected with the virus, but few hypotheses have been lined up such as:

  • Direct contact with the mother
  • Through breastfeeding or breast milk
  • Direct contact with other people tested positive for the virus

There is another hypothesis suggesting that breast milk of previously positive COVID-19 infected mothers (now recovered) may provide protection against the virus. According to Christina Chambers, she mentioned that having antibodies against the virus in the breast milk may indicate the mothers are passing a viral immunity to their babies.

However, there is no evidence that supports that mothers can transmit COVID-19 virus to their babies via breast milk up to date. Chambers’ latest research also suggests that breast milk itself is unlikely to be a source of infection of COVID-19 in babies.

Therefore, the mothers need to take extra precautions when breastfeeding their babies, especially in hospitals. It is advisable the mothers who is suspected or confirmed for COVID-19 infection to adhere to these rules:

  • Stay quarantined and isolate themselves from the others.
  • Try to keep a distance from the baby whenever possible to avoid virus transmission.
  • Practice a correct hand hygiene technique. Try to use water and soap as a means of cleaning the hands. If no water and soap is available, use alcohol rub with at least 60% alcohol content. This to ensure the hands are clean before touching the baby, bottles, the breast or the pump.
  • Wear a mask (if quarantined and isolated in hospital).

Therefore, it is advisable for mothers to continue breastfeeding their babies as breastfeeding can provide them nutrients and build up immunity although it is not proven yet whether the breast milk could provide their babies protection against COVID-19 virus and infection.

With the availability of the coronavirus vaccine now, almost everyone will be able to receive the protection from the virus as the vaccine works as a shield against the threat of the virus. Regarding whether breastfeeding mothers could receive the vaccine, for the time being it is advisable for the vaccination to be deferred until they stop breastfeeding as limited data is available to support that breastfeeding mother could receive the vaccine while she is still breastfeeding her child. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mentioned that breastfeeding women can opt for COVID-19 vaccination but it is advisable for them to seek opinions from the medical experts before getting the vaccine.

References:

https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/breastfeeding-and-covid-19

https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/maternal-or-infant-illnesses/covid-19-and-breastfeeding.html

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/breastmilk-harbors-antibodies-to-sars-cov-2-68162

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32587991/

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Breastfeeding-During-COVID-19.aspx

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/info-by-product/clinical-considerations.html#pregnant