Mother's Milk May Inhibit COVID-19, Study Says

Ralph Ellis

September 29, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Scientists in China say that mother's milk could help treat or prevent the coronavirus.

Researchers tested how human breast milk affects cells when exposed to the coronavirus, according to the paper published in biorxiv, an open access preprint repository for scientific studies that have not yet been published in a journal. The milk was collected in 2017, before the pandemic, and was tested on different kinds of animal and human cells.

The milk killed off most of the coronavirus strains, the researcher said.

The researchers said whey protein from human breastmilk "effectively inhibited" the coronavirus "by blocking viral attachment, entry and even post-entry viral replication. ... We found that whey protein from different species such as cow and goat also showed anti-coronavirus properties."

The South China Morning Post, in an article about the research, said researchers found human milk whey had an efficacy of about 100%, compared to 70% for goat and cow whey.

"Some parents are known to use donated breast milk to feed their babies, which is often pasteurised to eliminate potential contamination," the SCMP said.

However, the study that heating the milk to 90 degrees for 10 minutes inactivates the whey protein, and causes protection rate to drop to under 20%, the newspaper reported.

During the early days of the pandemic, there was uncertainty about whether breastfeeding could spread the virus.

The SCMP, citing Chinese media reports, said newborns in Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, were sometimes separated from their mothers who tested positive.

But a study published last month in JAMA said mothers are unlikely to spread the virus to their babies through breastfeeding.

In June, the World Health Organization said, "WHO recommends that mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be encouraged to initiate or continue to breastfeed. Mothers should be counseled that the benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks for transmission."