Welcome to our Just Wondering series, in which local pros tackle your most burning health and fitness questions. Got a question of your own? Send it here!
Do we know more now about antibodies from the vaccine (or former carriers of the disease) and the implications for a mother’s breastmilk than we did last spring when most research just began? What about moms looking to donate their milk—will the baby or child on the receiving end get any antibody perks?
“From the few studies done thus far, it appears that antibodies from moms who had COVID and from those who had the vaccine are transferred to human milk. The antibodies are given to their infants through their milk. The amount, or load, that the baby receives of COVID antibodies and the impact of it aren’t known at this time. The theory is that this form of passive immunity, as with other germs the mother and baby are exposed to, will help to protect the infant from the disease or lessen the severity of it if the baby should get it. Every time an infant receives human milk, [it’s as if they’re] being vaccinated. Also, it still isn’t known if donor milk with COVID vaccine antibodies carries over.”
As for the impact of the pandemic on donor milk and banks everywhere, a study from “The Current State of Donor Human Milk Use and Practice,” published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, reported the following:
“Of the 30 human milk bank services from which data were obtained, the majority faced substantial internal organization change in terms of staffing and protocols and experienced financial hardship in particular because of decreases in donor human milk orders. At the same time, most banks reported an increase in their numbers of donors and in the volume of milk collected. These results show that the pandemic significantly affected the way in which many North American milk banks operate, some lactating mothers donate their milk and, at least during the first few months of the crisis, certain hospitals’ donor human milk ordering patterns changed. It suggests in particular that stay-at-home orders and the turn to remote work created the potential for a surge in human milk available for donation as a number of parents no longer needed their surplus for their own children. Legal and policy reform should focus on replicating the positive effects of the pandemic on breastfeeding by guaranteeing paid parental leave and flexible work conditions. Initiatives should also aim at counteracting its negative effects by mandating the insurance coverage of donor human milk, supporting milk banks financially and, more generally, integrating lactation and human milk banking services within the health system.”