Human Milk and COVID-19 Antibodies A Reason to Breastfeed

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a study that investigates the relationship between human milk and antibodies. The study found that infants who were breastfed had lower levels of COVID-19 antibodies than formula-fed babies. This is important because, according to the CDC, Covid-19 infections can be serious. There are many other reasons for breastfeeding besides this one, but it’s nice to know your baby will get some protection from something nasty like COVID-19 while they’re still too young to do anything about it themselves!

The study analyzed data on about 1300 infants. The researchers looked at the participants’ antibodies for COVID-19, which can cause respiratory infections, skin infections, and eye infections. Of course, not all of the babies were breastfed while some were only given breastmilk while others also got formula. Since almost all of them got some kind of breastmilk, the researchers tried to tease apart the effect of breastfeeding alone. They found that exclusively breastfed infants had lower COVID-19 antibody levels than exclusively formula-fed infants. Those who received both breastmilk and formula had intermediate levels, suggesting that most of these antibodies came from breastmilk. This study provides evidence that taking precautions to protect infants from COVID-19 infections while they are too young to have built up their defenses can be accomplished by breastfeeding.

Since this is a retrospective study, it isn’t possible to determine whether breastfeeding provides more protection against COVID-19 than other strategies. However, the researchers did measure the duration of exclusive breastmilk feeding for each baby and found that the longer this period was, the lower the COVID-19 antibody levels were at one month of age. The benefit was found to increase with time, suggesting that breastfeeding provides lifelong protection against some infections.

This study only looked at COVID-19 antibodies and not other respiratory or skin infections like RSV resilient, herpes simplex virus, or Group A streptococcus. The researchers hope to expand this work in the future to investigate whether breastfeeding does lower babies’ risk of infections from all of these sources. In the meantime, it’s nice to have just one more reason to continue breastfeeding past the first month of your baby’s life!

Puckett R, Taber LH, Holzbauer S, et al. Maternal breast milk antibodies and susceptibility to late-onset sepsis in very young children with community-acquired bacteremia. Pediatrics 2013;131(4):e1158-67.

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for sharing this research. I was very surprised when my daughter, at 2 months old, caught her first cold (not RSV or pneumonia or anything common in infants Rhinovirus. And then she got another one-two weeks later! I felt helpless and didn’t know what was wrong with her. I had never heard of Covid-19 before, but after some research online it seems that she might have been exposed to this virus at daycare. When I took her back, I made sure to cover any open wounds that the kids may have on their hands or faces and indirectly washed down surfaces.