Lactating women who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 are selling their breast milk online. The website Only the Breast has dozens of pages of listings from mothers advertising milk with antibodies, some claiming the milk contains antibodies after having received the COVID-19 vaccine and others after having recovered from the disease. Several listings link articles with studies suggesting COVID antibodies are passed from mother to baby via breast milk.1
Researchers have found that SARS-CoV-2 itself is unlikely to be passed from mother to baby, and that most newborns who tested positive for the virus have mild or no symptoms.2 Scientists also don’t believe breastfeeding heightens the risks of babies contracting COVID-19 disease from an infected mother.3
Infants and Lactating Women Left out of Pre-EUA Clinical Trials but Recent Studies Find Presence of Antibodies in Breast Milk After Vaccination
Lactating mothers, pregnant women and infants were not included in clinical trials before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted three vaccine manufacturers an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to distribute experimental COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.4
According to published research, COVID-19 antibodies were present in the breast milk of mothers who received the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines as reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG) in March 2021.5 Andrea Edlow, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the study, said that these findings fill in the information gap for mothers. The Harvard Gazette reports that Edlow stated:
The news of excellent vaccine efficacy is very encouraging for pregnant and breastfeeding women, who were left out of the initial COVID-19 trials.5
Conflicting Health Care Provider Recommendations
The New York Times reports that some pediatricians and vaccine administrators recommended mothers discard their breast milk following vaccination due to unknown effects.6 Researchers and healthcare professionals who disagree with this stance believe “there is no evidence whatsoever for discarding breast milk after vaccination.” Early days of vaccine rollout left some mothers feeling as though they had to choose between breastfeeding and receiving the vaccine, according to Liz Johnson, PhD, a microbiologist, infant-nutrition researcher, and mother.7
Washington University School of Medicine researchers found a boost in COVID-19 antibodies in the breast milk of five mothers who received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
“There is so much vaccine misinformation out there right now—really scary, misleading posts on social media that are designed to scare moms—so we felt like we really needed to look at the science,” Jeannie Kelly, MD said. “We know that these types of antibodies coat babies’ mouths and throats and protect against disease when a baby is drinking breast milk. So, getting vaccinated while breastfeeding not only protects mom, but also could protect the baby too, and for months.”8
CDC Guidelines State No Data Available to Conclude Safety for Lactating Women or Breastfed Infants
The current CDC guidelines concerning receiving the vaccine in conjunction with breastfeeding state:
Because the vaccines have not been studied on lactating people, there are no data available on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in lactating people, the effects of vaccination on the breastfed infant, the effects on milk production or excretion.”4
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1 Polus S. Women selling breast milk with COVID-19 antibodies online: report. The Hill Apr. 22, 2021.
2 Coronavirus: mothers ‘unlikely to infect newborns’. BBC July 24, 2020
3 More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before-study. Reuters Apr. 23, 2021.
4 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Information about COVID-19 vaccines for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Mar. 18, 2021.
5 Cunningham J. Covid-19 vaccine protects mothers—and their newborns. The Harvard Gazette Mar. 25, 2021.
6 Murphy H. Vaccinated mothers are trying to give babies antibodies via breastmilk. The New York Times Apr. 8, 2021.
7 Wu K. Pregnant? Breastfeeding? The vaccine might protect you and your baby. The Atlantic Mar. 31, 2021.
8 Everding G. For breastfeeding moms, Covid-19 vaccinations may also protect babies. Washington University School of Medicine Apr. 6, 2021.