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Covid-19 Antibodies & Breastmilk News

by Katie Hodgkins

Breastfeeding mums, we have some wonderful news for you!

A recent study has found that antibodies can be found in breastmilk from mums previously infected with Covid-19 for up to TEN MONTHS after the initial infection, data suggests!

What does this mean?

This has great implications for breastfeeding parents and for scientists. First of all, antibodies pass through breastmilk from mummy to baby, so it is thought that the Covid-19 antibodies could help to protect breastfed babies from contracting Covid-19 or becoming unwell from it for up to 10 months after their mum originally contracted Covid-19.

Whilst children are thought to be at lower risk of contracting severe Covid-19 than people who have underlying health conditions, 1 in 10 little ones under the age one will need hospital treatment for Covid-19 so this information is very helpful for expectant parents who may be weighing up whether they want to try breastfeeding.

In addition, scientists are hopeful that these antibodies could aid their research in helping patients with severe cases of Covid-19 to recover well – we hope to see more news about this shortly!

More about the research…

To investigate, Dr Rebecca Powell and colleagues took breastmilk samples from 75 mums who had recovered from Covid-19.

They found that 88% contained ‘IgA antibodies’ which occur after being infected with a virus. In most cases these antibodies were capable of ‘neutralising’ the Covid-19 virus, meaning that it could potentially block infection. Subsequent investigation revealed that women continued to secrete these antibodies in their breastmilk for up to 10 months. The research was presented at the Global Breastfeeding and Lactation Symposium on the 21st of September!

Dr Powell told the symposium; “It means that if you continue breastfeeding, you’re still giving those antibodies in your milk.”

In addition, she went on to discuss how the IgA antibodies from breastmilk could help adults who are severely unwell with Covid-19…

“It could be an incredible therapy, because Secretory IgA is meant to be in these mucosal areas, such as the lining of the respiratory tract, and it survives and functions very well there. You could imagine if it was used in a nebuliser-type treatment, it might be very effective during that window where the person has gotten quite sick, but they’re not yet at the point of being admitted to intensive care.”


In addition, Dr Powell’s team researched whether vaccine antibodies pass into breastmilk…

The team worked with 50 women after vaccination with either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines. All women injected with the Moderna jab, and 87% of those who received the Pfizer jab were found to have coronavirus-specific IgG antibodies in their milk, while 71% and 51% respectively had virus-specific IgA antibodies. For the J&J vaccine, fewer women had antibodies – only 38% of women had IgG antibodies and 23% had IgA antibodies against coronavirus found in their breastmilk.

“We know that the level of antibodies produced by RNA vaccines is extremely high compared to other vaccines. You don’t necessarily need that much antibody to protect you from infection, but the milk effect really depends on there being a lot of antibody in your blood that’s transferring into your milk. Because there’s a lower level stimulated by the J&J vaccine (a viral vector vaccine), that’s probably why there’s very low levels in the milk.”

Dr Powell and her team are now investigating the antibody response in breastmilk triggered by the AstraZeneca vaccine – watch this space for an update as this will be relevant to many of us!


The conclusion?

The fact that antibodies pass from mum to baby via breastmilk has long been common knowledge, but with Covid-19 being such a new virus, no one could say for sure how this impacted on breastfeeding mums and their babies. Now we know that the antibodies from Covid-19 do indeed pass to your baby and offer protection, as well as some antibody transfer happening from the Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines too!

This is really good news for anyone who plans to breastfeed or is currently breastfeeding and worried about Covid-19 and we hope that it helps to send some of your minds at ease.

Tell us your thoughts in the comments and share with other mummies and daddies!

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