How does breast milk protect babies from COVID?
We already knew breast milk was an immune booster
We were telling you the health benefits of breast milk way back in 2019. It contains all the essential nutrients your baby needs to develop. It’s also rich in immune cells and reduces the risk of asthma and allergies, among other childhood and lifelong illnesses. In fact, one study we cited in that earlier post described breast milk as “required for optimal infant growth and development.”
You can’t get much better press than that. Or can you?
The news about breast milk’s health benefits keeps getting better
A University of Birmingham study released in 2021 found that immune cells called regulatory T cells are nearly twice as abundant in breastfed babies as in formula fed babies. In addition, the study found that bacteria that support T cells are more abundant in the guts of breastfed babies. Optimally-functioning T cells are critical today as they play a key role in immunity to foreign substances, includng COVID-19.
T cells known as “killer T cells” can target and destroy virus-infected cells. Scientists hope that they may help provide some immunity to COVID-19, according to a recent Nature article. While T cells can’t prevent infection, they can reduce the severity of it as well as reducing transmission.
But wait – there’s more! Breast milk also passes on COVID-19 vaccine benefits
Early studies of COVID-19 vaccines excluded pregnant and breastfeeding women, which led many moms to wonder if they should risk getting vaccinated. However, new data is in from a study that explored the use of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in both groups of women. The news is good!
The study showed that vaccine-induced antibody levels were much higher than levels induced by natural infection with COVID-19 during pregnancy. Further, the researchers found that those same antibodies were transferred to babies from mothers via umbilical cord blood and breast milk.
“We now have clear evidence the COVID vaccines can induce immunity that will protect infants,” said researcher Galit Alter in an interview with U.S. News and World Report. “We hope this study will catalyze vaccine developers to recognize the importance of studying pregnant and lactating individuals and include them in trials. The potential for rational vaccine design to drive improved outcomes for mothers and infants is limitless, but developers must realize that pregnancy is a distinct immunological state, where two lives can be saved simultaneously with a powerful vaccine.”
Breast milk for the win – again
Naturally, we’re not surprised. We’ve known breast milk is a little bit scientific wonder and a little bit mother’s magic for a while. We just wanted you to know that the love you pass on to your little one when you’re nursing is a pretty big deal in the fight against COVID-19 and other preventable illnesses.