Monday 19 April 2021

Study investigates if mother’s milk could protect against the coronavirus

Photo: Depositphotos

Researchers at the UMC teaching hospital in Amsterdam are studying whether antibodies in mother’s milk could have a preventative effect against the coronavirus.

Britt van Keulen, a doctor at its mother’s milk bank is recruiting 30 breastfeeding mothers who have had the coronavirus and who are willing to donate some of their milk for testing.

‘We know that mother’s milk protects newborns against respiratory infections, because it contains antibodies,’ she said in a press release. ‘By breastfeeding, the mother passes on her own antibodies to her child.’

She expects that coronavirus antibodies would also find their way into breastmilk, based on reports of a pregnant woman during the SARS epidemic in 2003. ‘This woman was seriously ill with the SARS virus and gave birth to a healthy baby at 38 weeks,’ she said. ‘Her breastmilk contained antibodies against the SARS virus. The coronavirus is very similar to the SARS virus – it is in the same family – so I think that corona antibodies will also be passed along into mother’s milk.’

However, even if enough antibodies are found in the breastmilk of mothers who have developed immunity to the coronavirus, the team will then have to test whether these survive a necessary pasteurisation process. This is a standard process for donor milk which is given to premature babies, for instance.

She said that if this is the case, the milk could be given as a preventative medicine for vulnerable groups such as newborn babies or even older people. ‘It might be a strange image having old people drink mother’s milk as protection,’ she added. ‘But it is still logical, because antibodies in the milk would protect them against the coronavirus.’

She told the Parool that if a newborn baby is given a glass of milk a day, older people might need more to represent their greater body weight.

‘Why would we joke about this?’ she reportedly added. ‘Milk in the supermarket comes from someone else, namely a cow who walks with muddy udders through a meadow. We have simply accepted this image, so why would milk from a clean mother’s breast be such a crazy notion?’

Around 3,500 Dutch women between 25 and 40 are confirmed to have had the coronavirus, reports the Parool, although it is not known how many are breastfeeding. has contacted the UMC for a comment.

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