New research explains how moms can give their babies COVID antibodies

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — Through this global pandemic, we’ve slowly but surely become accustomed to a lot of unknowns as research evolves.

Two years into this, we have quite a few more answers for moms and moms-to-be who are especially concerned about protecting their little ones during this time. One major question was if breastfeeding while or after a COVID infection was safe.

There’s good news: research from the University of Idaho suggests there are benefits of breastfeeding for moms who were infected or vaccinated.

“It was a huge question mark. It was an international crisis. In fact, the first recommendation that came out from some authoritative bodies is that women should not breastfeed,” Shelley McGuire, who lead the research project, explained.

The first unknown- and great concern- was if a COVID-positive mom could pass on the virus to her baby through her breastmilk.

“We’ve now done that really intensive studies that show in this virus, that is not passed from mom to baby during breastfeeding which is very reassuring,” said McGuire.

Dr. Hinah Parker is a Pediatric Hospitalist at Kootenai Health and a mother of three. She gave birth to her third child just before we went into lockdown.

“One of the big things mom has, that no one else has, is the ability to pass on immunity both through the breast milk and also through the placenta,” said Dr. Hinah Parker, a Pediatric Hospitalist, at Kootenai Health.

She said she and her family have come a long way since COVID-19 was first gripping the world.

“I pulled my other two out of daycare and I said, ‘We are not leaving the house, because I have no idea how this is going to affect the baby,'”‘ Dr. Parker said.

It’s a much different story two years later.

“Moms who breastfeed their babies, again, who have had a recent COVID infection in the past few months, or who have had their vaccines, are able to pass on antibodies through the breastmilk. It’s been a relief for a lot of us knowing that it’s something we can do,” Dr. Parker explained.

Results from the local research even support recommendations that women who are lactating continue breastfeeding during and after COVID infection.

“It’s just suggested that women use the same precautions that everyone else does. Wash their hands, wear a mask, etc. but they can do that safely and breastfeed,” explained McGuire.

Once COVID hit, leading this research was a no-brainer for McGuire. “When you’re a breastfeeding researcher and you know this is going to be an International Health Crisis, you jump in and you do the science that needs to be done. It was a labor of love for all of us.”

She admits it was some of the most difficult research she’s ever done, but well worth it.

“Very very gratifying research to do there at the end.”

To be clear: while infection and vaccinations can transfer antibodies through breastmilk to the baby, catching the virus is significantly riskier during pregnancy than getting vaccinated during pregnancy. So, the advice remains the same: get your vaccinations.

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