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Ask a Pediatrician: I’m Vaccinated and Lactating. Should I Sneak Some of My Breast Milk Into My Toddler’s Food?

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“I am fully vaccinated with two kids at home who are not currently eligible for the vaccine. I’m currently breastfeeding my 3-month-old and have read a few posts on social media and in various parenting forums about moms sneaking breast milk into their toddler’s food so that they can receive antibodies. Is this something that’s worth doing?” 

I’ve heard from many parents recently who are feeling a sense of desperation right now—those with a child or children not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine are feeling particularly anxious. Pfizer recently announced plans to seek Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for a two-dose regimen of its COVID-19 vaccine for children aged six months to five years old, but as of now the outcome remains a waiting game. 

In the meantime, many parents are plagued with worry and the struggles of having a vulnerable child at home. Parents are sharing their sheer burnout from following frequent testing protocols, constantly being required to keep children home from school or out of home childcare centers, potentially missing work, or trying to juggle it all…it’s physically and emotionally exhausting. 

The question about whether a lactating mom should sneak breast milk into her toddler’s food is an interesting one. I have to applaud the ingenuity! While I can’t think of any harm in doing this, I am unaware of any published scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of this method. 

There is, however, data that show breastfeeding infants do receive COVID-19-neutralizing antibodies from breast milk. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association JAMA Pediatrics (Journal of the American Medical Association) late last year found that breastfeeding persons with immunity to COVID-19, including those who had the virus and produced antibodies and those who received the mRNA vaccination, produced breast milk with active SARS-CoV-2 antibodies that has been well tolerated.

So, people may think that this would also work for their toddler, right? Not necessarily. The devil is in the details on this one.

Transferring antibodies via breast milk to a nursing infant is a different scenario when the child is a toddler. So while giving a small child breast milk likely will not do any harm, because the gut microbiome and absorption of a breastfeeding infant differs from that of a child over the age of one and toddlers have a wider variety of exposures, it is unlikely that breast milk would produce the same effect. But more than that, there is simply no data that suggests antibodies would be protective in this scenario.

The under-five set remains vulnerable as we wait for vaccine eligibility for this age group, so it’s crucial for us to continue implementing the practices we do know have been proven to help mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2: proper-fitting masks, hand hygiene, distancing, opting for outdoor activities whenever possible, and not allowing ourselves to become complacent by giving in to the virus fatigue we’re all undoubtedly experiencing at this moment (I feel it, too). 

Dr. C

Dr. Christina Johns is a pediatrician + Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatrics, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S.  

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Dr. Christina Johns is a pediatrician + Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care, the largest pediatric urgent care group in the U.S. She received her undergraduate degree at...