Women warned against sourcing unscreened breastmilk for COVID-19 antibodies

Picture: Getty Images
Picture: Getty Images 

It's understandable that fears around keeping your newborn safe would be heightened during the pandemic. 

But authorities have issued a warning to parents looking to an unconventional method in the hopes of giving their babies extra protection against COVID-19: feeding them a stranger's breast milk.

The theory is that by feeding them milk from a woman who has been vaccinated, her antibodies against the virus will be passed to the baby through the milk. 

However the US Food and Drug Authority (FDA) has warned against sourcing breast milk from anywhere other than a registered milk bank, as there are no guarantees the woman donating this has antibodies and has not been exposed to illegal (or prescription) drugs or have any other infectious diseases.

But as one mum told Good Morning America, it offered reassurance during a very uncertain time.

"If there's a way I can do something that offers a level of protection to my child, I'd like to try," mum Courtney Carson told GMA of sourcing the milk for her four-month-old.

"I decided that I would just ask and see if anyone was willing to donate for me and my son."

A woman, Yoko Lytle, who had been vaccinated in February agreed and is now supplying Carson with milk.

"I know that the mother was also aware that the science wasn't fully behind it yet but she just needed some peace of mind and if a few bags of milk can give someone peace of mind, then I'm happy to give it," Lytle told GMA. 

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There does appear to be some evidence that Covid antibodies can be transmitted through a mother's milk. A very small study from Portland found that women who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine showed 'significantly elevated levels' of antibodies in their milk within a week of their first dose. 

A larger study at the University of Western Australia involving 500 milk samples from 25 Covid positive and 25 Covid free mothers is also currently underway to better establish any links between the milk's protective antibody properties.

According to Australian government (clinical) guidelines around the use of donor milk, donors must adhere to strict screening and vetting before their milk is declared safe for consumption and is to be facilitates through registered milk banks. 

This is especially important to mitigate any risk of transmitting an infection, with donors screened for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B and C. They must also be non-smokers, have less than two drinks of alcohol a day and not have 'excessive' caffeine intakes. Or have lived in the UK for more than six months between 1980-96.

Screening can also include data on sexual partners, drug use, vaccinations, blood transfusions, tattoos, travel and any prior pituitary growth hormone use.

Milk must also be collected in accordance to strict procedural guidelines around expressing, pasteurisation and freezing.