Newly vaccinated mothers have discovered they may hold a new superpower—the ability to protect their babies from Covid-19 before children are able to get vaccinated.
New research suggests that antibodies from a vaccinated mother could be passed to her baby through milk. In Facebook groups across the country, vaccinated mothers are going to great lengths to pass on the protection.
Lynn Koltes, a mother from Orange County, California, pulled out a breast pump as soon as she returned home from her first Covid-19 vaccine appointment. She had stopped breastfeeding her daughter two months prior and was determined to get the milk flowing again—a difficult process known as relactation.
Lynn pumped every odd hour from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., a taxing feat, but one that was worth a try for Lynn and her husband, who are desperate to introduce their 4-month-old daughter to family.
“I am starting to see very slow progress, so it is all worth it if it means I can protect her,” Lynn told the New York Times last week.
While Lynn, and hundreds like her are putting their bodies through the ringer for the protection of their babies, there is loads of misinformation circling both about the vaccine and its effectiveness in breastmilk.
Still, six researchers agreed that these mothers’ efforts are not in vain. Multiple studies show that antibodies generated after vaccination can, indeed, be passed through breast milk. How exactly these antibodies protect the infant from Covid-19 is still unclear, but there is no evidence that new mothers should hold off on getting vaccinated, or dump their breast milk after doing so.
Because none of the vaccine trials included pregnant or breastfeeding women, researchers turned to Facebook in search of lactating women who qualified for the first vaccine rollout.
Rebecca Powell, a human milk immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Manhattan, found hundreds of doctors and nurses willing to periodically share their breast milk.
Powell analyzed the breast milk of six women who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and four who had received the Moderna vaccine, 14 days after the women had received their second shots. Significant numbers of one particular antibody, called IgG, were present in all of them, and other researchers have seen similar results.
In a draft of a small study, Yariv Wine, an applied immunologist at Tel Aviv University found that “Breast milk has the capacity to prevent viral dissemination and block the ability of the virus to infect host cells that will result in illness.”
Of course research and knowledge about the virus is still too premature for vaccinated mothers who are breastfeeding to act as if their babies can’t get infected. While there are pieces of evidence suggesting that the Covid-19 antibodies in breast milk are protecting the infant, there is no concrete evidence that this is the case.
In addition to providing antibody-filled breast milk to their babies, vaccinated mothers around the country are sharing their liquid gold with friends and family members who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Some are feeding it to their own babies for an added peace of mind, while others are sneaking it into their toddlers’ chocolate milk.
Researchers however do agree that breast milk’s protective benefits function more like a long-term pill that you take every day, rather than like a shot that lasts for years.
The short-term defense provided by breast milk may only last hours or days from the baby’s last “dose,” Dr. Powell said.
“It’s not the same as the baby getting vaccinated,” she added.
Due to what we know about how vaccines work, researchers believe that there is nothing about the vaccine that could cause harm to a breastfeeding baby. And while they agree that the benefits do exist, newly vaccinated mothers should be aware that the protection only lasts as long as the baby continues to breastfeed.
For Lynn Koltes, two weeks of pumping to force relactation only resulted in a few drops of breast milk each session. A conversation with her pediatrician reiterated that even if she were to get the vaccinated milk flowing, it didn’t promise protection when exposing her 4-month-old daughter to unmasked, unvaccinated relatives. Lynn finally called it quits, and says she’ll continue waiting on the development of a vaccine for her daughter.