Commonly referred to as ‘liquid gold’, breastmilk has been widely known for its incredibly powerful benefits with immunity-boosting components for babies, while helping to fight against certain infections.
But when it comes to fighting off coronavirus, little is known about how breast milk could be beneficial. It also had scientists debating over whether coronavirus could be transmitted through breast milk.
In the case of US mother Michelle Agard, doctors advised her to stop breastfeeding her newborn and 1-year-old child after she was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Scientist Collects Breast Milk Samples from Mothers
Her ordeal, however, has allowed Rebecca Powell, a human milk immunologist at the Icahn school of Medicine at Mount Sinai, to further drive research about the possible benefits of breast milk antibodies on the coronavirus.
With most research focuses on antibodies in blood, “there aren’t many studies on breast milk as a potential COVID-19 treatment, let alone its benefits,” explained Powell.
To develop a possible antibody treatment for the virus, Powell is working with Agard, among many COVID-19 survivors to collect breast milk samples.
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Over 50 samples of breast milk has been personally collected by Powell thus far—with more than 800 samples sent to her lab. She also makes the effort to keep the milk collection contactless as she travels from home to home.
Coronavirus Antibodies Found in Breast Milk of 80% of COVID-19 Survivors
In Powell’s research, coronavirus antibodies were found in the breast milk of 80% of the survivors she has tested, including those of Agard’s.
“Antibodies in breast milk are particularly tough compared to the ones found in blood, since they’re designed to survive an infant’s gut and respiratory tract to help block out infections,” stated Powell.
This could be promising in developing potential treatments, considering that experts are seeking to create “an antibody therapy that could weaken the coronavirus, or even prevent infection”.
Even so, researchers sought to highlight that “having antibodies in breast milk does not mean it guarantees immunity against the coronavirus for children”, or that the effects will be long-lasting.
Coronavirus antibodies can start to decrease in as little as two months after infection, a recent study showed.
Image source: iStock
While parents could be heartened to hear that coronavirus antibodies are present in breast milk, Seema Yasmin, director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative, offered a word of caution.
“We’re in such early days of both the disease and the studies about antibodies in breast milk that I would worry about anybody developing a set of false sense of security about breastfeeding their child, and assuming that that child has some heightened level of protection against COVID-19,” she said to Business Insider.
While there is still much left to be uncovered from Powell’s research—which will require more funding and data—it has certainly provided hope for mothers like Agard.
“I was just really happy that [coronavirus antibodies] was in my breast milk because I know I can’t give my blood to my children, but I know that I could give them my breast milk. So I was excited about that,” said Agard.
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