COVID-19: Support of research projects on breast milk and antibodies

Medela actively promotes accurate information and timely research.

In the race against time to understand the novel coronavirus and prevent its further spread, Medela actively promotes accurate information and timely research. Amongst other initiatives, the company recently launched a dedicated COVID-19 microsite to provide customers with current and reliable information on breast milk and breastfeeding in relation to COVID-19.

On the science front, Medela is directly supporting urgent and pioneering research to investigate the behaviour of the virus with respect to human milk, in particular to confirm early findings that the virus is not present in milk, and to determine if and when maternal antibodies to the virus can be found in breast milk. According to UNICEF, breastfeeding is the safest, most reliable method of infant feeding, especially in an emergency. In addition to being the best source of nutrition for newborns and infants, breast milk also provides dynamic immunologic protection. It contains live cells that change in amount according to the maternal and infant health circumstances and over the lactation journey. In relation to COVID-19 is the immunologic protection provided by breastmilk via the antibodies the mom's body produces to fight infections, which can then be passed to her baby through breast milk.

As a research-driven company, it is our responsibility to support research projects in this area. "This research is critical at the moment and as such we didn't hesitate to support these research projects, being conducted at the University of California in San Diego and the University of Idaho, with a donation of milk collection kits and equipment", says Dr Leon Mitoulas, Head of Medical Research at Medela, who has been coordinating with the researchers in the US.

Both research programmes have asked for product support to collect milk samples necessary for the studies to address the lack of knowledge about breast milk, breastfeeding and COVID-19. Prof. Tina Chambers at the Mommy’s Milk Human Milk Research Biorepository in collaboration with Prof. Lars Bode at the FLRF Mother-Milk-Infant Center of Research Excellence, both at the University of California, San Diego, will focus on whether or not the virus is present in breast milk, and will examine breast milk for potential antiviral properties with respect to COVID-19. “We’re collecting and analyzing a larger number of samples than have been reported in the scientific literature to date. Hopefully, the results of our study can be used to provide reassurance to women that breastfeeding with COVID-19 infection doesn’t pose a risk”, said Chambers, a perinatal epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego. “We are so thankful for Medela’s generosity in supporting our efforts to answer these urgent questions.”

In further research, led by Prof. Michelle McGuire at the University of Idaho, human milk from COVID-19 positive, breastfeeding mothers will be investigated to determine if the virus is present in human milk in order to identify any antibodies to the virus and to reinforce WHO and CDC breastfeeding recommendations.

Within days, the researchers had Medela's firm commitment to provide the necessary equipment - breast pumps, milk storage bags, and sterilisation bags. Medela's rapid and informed response reflects our longstanding ties to the research community and our mission to ensure the well-being of mother and child.

Note: UNICEF, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, the CDC and WHO state that considering the benefits of breastfeeding and the insignificant role of breast milk in the transmission of other respiratory viruses, the mother can continue breastfeeding, while applying all necessary precautions, e.g. to avoid droplet infection while breastfeeding.