There’s a reason breast milk is called “liquid gold”. It’s well known that breastfeeding a newborn child can provide many benefits to both the mother and the child. Some of the risks include reducing the child’s risk of developing illnesses such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity, etc. Now studies are showing an additional bonus for babies that are being breastfed by mothers that have been vaccinated.
Studies show that the breast milk of a vaccinated woman does, in fact, contain antibodies that can be beneficial to newborns. Although it isn’t exactly clear what benefits these antibodies will have on newborns, many women have begun breastfeeding again or borrowing breastmilk from vaccinated friends.
Rebecca Powell, a human milk immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, examined six women who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and four who received Moderna. After 14 days, she found a significant number of an antibody called IgG in all of them.
Another study found IgA and IgG antibodies in breast milk for six weeks after vaccination with 97 percent of women tested having an elevated amount of antibodies in their breast milk.
“This means that mothers are not only producing antibodies within their bodies at high levels for protection against the virus that causes Covid-19 but also, they produce high enough levels that the antibodies are secreted via their breast milk,” Dr. Priya Soni, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in the Cedars-Sinai Pediatrics Department says.
How do Antibodies protect newborns?
For starters, IgA antibodies are key in fighting viruses that attach to and target mucus membranes (the main mode of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19).
A vaccinated mother feeding their child antibodies through breast milk can also serve as protection while clinical trials are still being conducted on the safety of vaccines in newborns/children. Both Moderna and Pfizer have begun conducting research on babies as young as 6 months old.
How else can you transfer antibodies?
Women don’t have to wait until they are
pregnant for the breastmilk to be effective in transferring Covid antibodies. Women may get vaccinated before getting pregnant, which allows the immune cells to be transferred during the third trimester and breastfeeding stages. In fact, it is best to get vaccinated sooner than later because antibodies don’t show up in breast milk until two weeks after the first shot. They also peaked after the second shot, researchers found.
Lactating women who had a previous case of Covid can also transmit natural antibodies to their babies through breastfeeding. Although this only lasts two to three weeks after recovery.
Does this mean your child is vaccinated?
The antibodies of vaccinated breast milk can provide immunity but do not equate to your baby actually getting vaccinated.
“Though we are seeing potential protection through breast milk, this is considered ‘passive immunity,'” Dr. Soni clarifies.
How long does protection last?
The short answer to this question is that it’s unclear. However, researchers agree that babies who consume breast milk all day are more likely to be protected than those who consume an occasional drop. Breast milk’s benefits are similar to a pill that must be taken every day as opposed to a shot that lasts years. Dr. Powell notes that this is a short-term defense that may only last hours or days after a baby’s last dose.“As soon as you stop feeding that breast milk, there is no protection — period,” Antti Seppo, a breast milk researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center says.
Is it safe?
Moderna and Pfizer are both mRNA vaccines, whose molecules have a short lifetime, meaning they won’t make their way into your milk, according to Seppo.
“There is no reason to think there is anything about this vaccine that would cause it to be harmful, and there’s reason to believe it would be beneficial,” Christina Chambers, co-director of the Center for Better Beginnings at the University of California, San Diego says.
If you are looking to breastfeed and having trouble producing enough milk, you should contact your practitioner or a lactation specialist for support.
You can also try the following:
- Make sure your baby’s breastfeeding position and latch are correct (guide to breastfeeding positions and tips for getting a good latch).
- Allow your baby to drain the breast at each feeding.
- Don’t take long intervals in between feedings. Instead, feed your baby on demand. In the first months of breastfeeding, this will be about every two to three hours.
- Switch back and forth between breasts during feedings to make sure each one gets an adequate amount of time.
- If you are a stomach sleeper, try adjusting your position. Putting too much weight on your chest at night can slow milk production.
- Don’t add formula to breast milk unless your doctor deems it necessary for your baby to gain weight. You should also limit how much your child uses a pacifier.
- Pumping between feeding sessions can help increase milk supply. Try listening to a podcast, watching your favorite show or reading to help the time fly by.
- “Power pumping,” can boost your milk supply by mimicking cluster feeding. This can be done by pumping off and on for about an hour a day (for example pump for 20 minutes, then rest for 10, then pump for 10, then rest for 10 and so on). You will see results in about a week.
- If you are exhausted, underfed and not well-hydrated, you will not be able to provide an efficient amount of milk. In order to keep your baby nourished, you must take care of yourself.