According to a small study, the SARS-Cov-2 virus does not seem to be transmitted through breastfeeding when the mother is infected.
In all socioeconomic contexts, breastfeeding improves the survival rate of newborns and infants and has positive effects on their health and development throughout their lives.
The good news is that it is very unlikely that COVID-19 will be transmitted through breastfeeding or the supply of breast milk. This is the conclusion of a small study published in JAMA magazine.
No proof that the virus can be passed through breast milk
“In the absence of data, some women infected with SARS-Cov-2 chose not to breastfeed at all,” said Professor Grace Aldrovandi, a pediatrician and co-director of the study, in a statement. Breastfeeding offers important benefits to children, including a reduced risk of obesity and improved immunity. To be sure, researchers examined 64 breast milk samples from 18 women infected with the COVID-19 virus, the SARS-Cov-2. They detected viral RNA – the genetic material characteristic of the virus – in only one sample. However, subsequent tests showed that the virus could not replicate from this sample and was therefore harmless to the baby. “The detection of viral RNA does not mean an infection. It has to grow and multiply to be contagious, and we didn’t find this in any of our samples,” explains Professor Christina Chambers, co-author of this work.
Pasteurization in milk banks kills the virus
The donated breast milk is also not at risk due to the pasteurization process, researchers say. They added SARS-CoV-2 to two breast milk samples and then subjected them to the Holder common pasteurization process used in donor human milk banks: 30 minutes at 62.5°C, then stored at 4°C. No viruses were detected in the samples. “This is a very positive result for the donated milk on which so many babies depend, especially premature babies,” said Prof. Chambers. Other studies on a larger number of samples will confirm these results and perhaps learn more about the antibodies against the virus that the mother could transmit to the child.
More benefits than risks
“We hope that our results and future studies will give women the confidence to breastfeed. Human milk offers invaluable advantages for both the mother and child,” says Professor Aldrovandi. Even before these results, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended in June 2020 that breastfeeding should continue despite the pandemic. “We know that children have a relatively low risk of disease, but they are highly exposed to other diseases and conditions that breastfeeding can prevent,” said the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Based on the available evidence, the WHO recommends that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risk of transmission,” he added at a virtual press conference. Like the WHO, UNICEF also recommends that infected or suspected mothers wear a mask, wash their hands with soap and water or a hydroalcoholic solution before and after any contact with their babies, and systematically clean and disinfect affected areas.