Background: It has been demonstrated that human milk from mothers who have been infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) contains antibodies against the virus, which could play an important role in protecting the recipient infant against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Seroconversion is measured frequently around the world, but the milk conversion rate is unknown.
Research aims: To determine (1) the prevalence and (2) the dynamics of immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in human milk amongst lactating mothers in the Netherlands.
Methods: In this large prospective cohort study, lactating mothers (N = 2312) were included between October 12, 2020 and February 24, 2021. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay was used to determine levels of IgA antibodies in human milk and immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies in serum against the ectodomain of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
Results: A total of 691 (30.6%) participants had SARS-CoV-2 specific antibodies in human milk and/or serum. Of these participants, 524 (23.1%) had IgA antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in human milk, and 356 (15.7%) had IgG antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in serum. A total of 199 (8.8%) participants had antibodies in both human milk and serum. SARS-CoV-2 specific IgA antibodies in human milk remain present at least 10 months after a polymerase chain reaction confirmed infection.
Conclusion: The prevalence of IgA antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in human milk was 23.1% in our cohort. This high prevalence of antibodies in human milk might lead to passive immunity in many breastfed infants and may serve as protection against COVID-19.
Keywords: COVID-19; breastfeeding; breastmilk; coronavirus; immunoglobulins; lactation secretory IgA; spike protein.