Measles antibodies in the breast milk of nursing mothers

Afr J Med Med Sci. 1995 Dec;24(4):385-8.


A total of 216 breast milk samples collected from nursing mothers and corresponding numbers of finger prick sera from their suckling babies were tested for measles antibodies. Fifty (22.1%) of the nursing mothers had antibody while 38 (16.8%) of the sera were positive for measles haemagglutinating (HI) antibodies. Forty-one (18.9%) breast milk samples were found to contain measles complement fixing (CF) antibody while none of the serum samples from the suckling babies had CF antibody. Only 12 of the positive sera were from HI positive mothers. Our result suggests that very little level of measles antibody is passed through the breast milk.

PIP: At the Institute of Child Health (ICH) of the University College Hospital and at Adeoyo Maternity Hospital (AMH) in Ibadan, Nigeria, health workers took breast milk samples and blood samples from 226 lactating mothers and their infants, respectively, so researchers could examine the relationship between measles antibody levels in the infants and breast feeding duration. None of the mothers had a history of previous measles vaccination. Breast milk samples were more likely to have measles hemagglutinating (HI) antibodies than infant blood samples (AMH: 35.4% vs. 27.4%; ICH: 8.8% vs. 6.1%). At AMH, only 10 (32%) of the positive blood samples came from infants of mothers testing positive for measles HI antibodies. At ICH this figure was 28.6%. 30.9% of the AMH breast milk samples and 5.3% of the ICH breast milk samples tested positive for measles complement fixing (CF) antibodies, while none of the children had CF antibodies. When compared to their offspring, the greater proportion of mothers testing positive for measles antibodies suggests that breast milk protects against measles. Based on these findings, the researchers recommend that all health workers encourage mothers in Nigeria to breast feed their infants to protect them against measles infection.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / analysis*
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Complement Fixation Tests
  • Female
  • Hemagglutination Tests
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Maternally-Acquired
  • Infant, Newborn / blood
  • Infant, Newborn / immunology
  • Measles virus / immunology*
  • Milk, Human / virology*
  • Nigeria


  • Antibodies, Viral