According to a new study, the breast milk of women who have been vaccinated with mRNA COVID-19 vaccines contains a significant supply of antibodies that may help keep babies safe.
Although many questions remain about how much protection those antibodies provide infants, and how long that protection lasts researchers say the findings provide yet another compelling reason for pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding women to get vaccinated.
“When babies are born, they have a relatively immature system. It develops over time. So the major protections that babies receive come from Mom.
“So if Mom is producing these antibodies that are present in the breast milk, there is the potential for that protection that Mom has to be transferred over to her baby.
“This is particularly important because babies can’t be vaccinated right now,” Joseph Larkin III, senior author of the study and an associate professor of microbiology and cell science with the University of Florida, said.
The study, which was published this week in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine, was conducted last winter when the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines were first made available to health care workers.
As such, it was small, limited to only 21 lactating health care workers at the time, and did not include the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, though Larkin stated that research on that vaccine is currently underway.
The coronavirus antibodies present in the women’s breast milk increased after each shot, and the coronavirus antibodies present in the women’s breast milk increased pre-vaccine, after the first dose, and after the second dose.
The new study discovered that after the women were fully vaccinated, their levels of coronavirus antibodies increased roughly 100-fold. This is a higher antibody level than is typically seen in women infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Of course, breastfeeding is difficult, and Larkin said that he did not want his findings to put undue pressure on women who are struggling or unable to breastfeed. While the majority of mothers in the United States now begin breastfeeding, less than 60% continue to do so at six months, and breastfeeding pressure can harm women’s mental health.
“As a father of five, I do understand from an outside perspective some of the challenges that go into breastfeeding, and I respect that. For those moms that are unable to breastfeed, for many reasons, they shouldn’t be disheartened, because just by being vaccinated she is providing a layer of protection for her baby,” he said.