“But transmission by breast milk is most probably unlikely,” Shlomai said.
For the study, researchers followed 55 infants born at the Israeli medical center to mothers who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. All of the newborns tested negative for the infection soon after delivery.
Three-quarters of the babies were given breast milk during their hospital stay, and even more — 85% — were breastfed after going home. None became infected with the coronavirus, based on screening tests done two to three weeks after leaving the hospital.
Earlier in the pandemic, the Jerusalem hospital had a policy of separating newborns from their SARS-CoV-2-positive moms. Because of that, infants in this study were given pumped breast milk by bottle.
But Shlomai said that no longer seems necessary, as long as safeguards like mask-wearing and hand-washing are followed.
That’s also in line with existing recommendations, Yotebieng noted. In general, the WHO recommends skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding soon after an infant is born — and that applies to moms with COVID-19, too.
Yotebieng raised another question: Is it possible that breast milk provides these infants with antibodies against the virus? Such antibodies have been detected in the breast milk of infected women, Yotebieng said, but it’s unclear whether they help protect babies.