SARS-CoV-2 genome and antibodies in breastmilk: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2021 Sep;106(5):514-521. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2020-321074. Epub 2021 Feb 10.


Objective: To systematically review and meta-analyse the rate of SARS-CoV-2 genome identification and the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in breastmilk of mothers with COVID-19.

Design: A systematic review of studies published between January 2019 and October 2020 without study design or language restrictions.

Setting: Data sourced from Ovid Embase Classic+Embase, PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, relevant bibliographies and the John Hopkins University COVID-19 database.

Patients: Mothers with confirmed COVID-19 and breastmilk tested for SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR or for anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

Main outcome measures: Presence of SARS-CoV-2 genome and antibodies in breastmilk.

Results: We included 50 articles. Twelve out of 183 women from 48 studies were positive for SARS-CoV-2 genome in their breastmilk (pooled proportion 5% (95% CI 2% to 15%; I2=48%)). Six infants (50%) of these 12 mothers tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, with one requiring respiratory support. Sixty-one out of 89 women from 10 studies had anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody in their breastmilk (pooled proportion 83% (95% CI 32% to 98%; I2=88%)). The predominant antibody detected was IgA.

Conclusions: SARS-CoV-2 genome presence in breastmilk is uncommon and is associated with mild symptoms in infants. Anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies may be a more common finding. Considering the low proportion of SARS-CoV-2 genome detected in breastmilk and its lower virulence, mothers with COVID-19 should be supported to breastfeed.

Keywords: COVID-19; epidemiology; neonatology.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis*
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 Testing*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / prevention & control
  • Milk, Human / virology*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification*