SARS-CoV-2 and human milk: What is the evidence?

Matern Child Nutr. 2020 Oct;16(4):e13032. doi: 10.1111/mcn.13032. Epub 2020 May 30.


The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has emerged as one of the most compelling and concerning public health challenges of our time. To address the myriad issues generated by this pandemic, an interdisciplinary breadth of research, clinical and public health communities has rapidly engaged to collectively find answers and solutions. One area of active inquiry is understanding the mode(s) of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Although respiratory droplets are a known mechanism of transmission, other mechanisms are likely. Of particular importance to global health is the possibility of vertical transmission from infected mothers to infants through breastfeeding or consumption of human milk. However, there is limited published literature related to vertical transmission of any human coronaviruses (including SARS-CoV-2) via human milk and/or breastfeeding. Results of the literature search reported here (finalized on 17 April 2020) revealed a single study providing some evidence of vertical transmission of human coronavirus 229E; a single study evaluating presence of SARS-CoV in human milk (it was negative); and no published data on MERS-CoV and human milk. We identified 13 studies reporting human milk tested for SARS-CoV-2; one study (a non-peer-reviewed preprint) detected the virus in one milk sample, and another study detected SARS-CoV-2 specific IgG in milk. Importantly, none of the studies on coronaviruses and human milk report validation of their collection and analytical methods for use in human milk. These reports are evaluated here, and their implications related to the possibility of vertical transmission of coronaviruses (in particular, SARS-CoV-2) during breastfeeding are discussed.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; breast milk; breastfeeding; coronavirus; human milk; infectious disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / analysis
  • Breast Feeding
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / transmission*
  • COVID-19 / virology*
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / analysis
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Milk, Human / virology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / immunology
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Immunoglobulin G