Menu Close

COVID, Banked Human Milk: Myths and Facts

Pouring banked human milk into a flask.
Photo Courtesy of Austin Milk Bank

It’s hard to imagine that anything could generate more uncertainties and fears than COVID-19. Because of those emotions, people tend to create their own narrative which isn’t always accurate. Here, I want to separate myth from fact about COVID and banked human milk.

Myth #1: No research has been done on COVID and banked human milk

Admittedly, COVID is a newly emerging disease. There’s a lot we don’t know. Therefore, it’s easy to assume that in the few short months since the virus has been identified, no studies have been conducted. 

Fact

At least one scientific study has been carried out on banked milk. But let me be quick to clarify that in the context of this post, I’m talking about banked milk as pasteurized human milk from an accredited human milk bank. (I’ve explained terms related to donated milk elsewhere.)

If you or your clients are considering using milk from a traditional, accredited donor human milk bank, read the existing science about COVID and banked human milk.

Myth #2: The virus is transmitted through human milk

If the mother eats a food or contracts an infection or consumes a drug, people often assume that it automatically “goes through the milk.” The media tends to spread that myth.

However, I had the great privilege of working day-to-day with world-renowned neonatologist, toxicologist and author Dr. Ruth Lawrence. She often impressed upon me that “the breast is not a sieve.”

Fact

The highly-acclaimed Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study led by Cristina Chambers. The study looked at the milk of mothers who were positive for COVID.

They concluded that, “These data suggest that SARS-CoV-2 RNA does not represent replication-competent virus and that breast milk may not be a source of infection for the infant.”

Myth #3: COVID can’t be destroyed

We’ve all worried because we have no vaccine, and seemingly no bulletproof way to protect ourselves against catching the virus. That doesn’t mean it can’t be destroyed or at least disabled.

Fact

Chambers and colleagues inoculated the milk with the virus. Next, they heated the milk using Holder pasteurization. Then, they tested it and found that the virus is heat sensitive.

The authors concluded, “When control samples spiked with [the virus] were treated by Holder pasteurization no replication-competent SARS-COV-2 virus or viral RNA were detectible.”

As I understand it, that appears to mean that the virus was destroyed or at least disabled.

This should not surprise us. There is no evidence that COVID-19 is in cow’s milk. Authorities agree that the virus is spread by droplet, not by food.

Milk that is processed in a HMBANA-accredited milk bank uses the classic Holder pasteurization method to destroy organisms in the milk. By definition, Holder pasteurization means that the milk is heated to 62.5 degrees C (about 144 degrees F) and held at that temperature for 30 minutes.

For years, we’ve known that Holder pasteurization is effective against many viruses. Hence, fears about COVID and banked human milk are unfounded.

HMBANA-accredited milk banks such as those directed by my podcast guest, Kim Updegrove, all use Holder pasteurization. (Milk banks have been established all over the world, but not all use Holder pasteurization.)

Myth #4: The container is contaminated

Yes, in the early days, we all worried about the containers. Not just for storing milk, but for storing any type of food.

Fact

True, human milk is in some sort of container that is safe for storage of food consumed by humans. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here in the US has stated that such containers are not a source of COVID.

In the absence of a clear, science-based narrative, people become fearful and make up their own narrative. That narrative seldom addresses the proven risk/benefit factors.

The risk of serious and common threats such as necrotizing enterocolitis is well-proven. On the flip side, donor human milk is critical for survival of some premature or seriously compromised infants.

Do you have concerns about COVID and banked human milk? Tell me in the comments below!

Streamline Your Study for a 90-Hour Course
Focusing on IBLCE Exam's Global Perspective
Share this

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.