As of today, Thursday, April 2nd, at the time I'm writing this, the situation with COVID-19 is uncertain. Most information is based on minimal data studies, and none of them conclusive.
Regarding breastfeeding, we have only presumptions on the protective effect of breastfeeding against the virus. These suppositions are based on two main factors:
1. The already proven immunological properties of breast milk that work against many viruses and bacteria.
2. The lack of evidence to prove the transmission via breast milk. Until now, nobody has found traces of the virus in the infected mother's breast milk.
But the truth is that, with COVID-19, we're swimming in strange waters, and we don't know what the capabilities of this virus are.
A few initiatives from the scientific community are launching serious research projects to study the potential protective effects of breast milk against coronavirus. But in the meantime, we must base our decisions on what we have, and everything indicates that breastfeeding is our strong ally. We don't have all the answers, that's a fact. But we must trust in what Nature provided to us, that's our strength.
What are the protective factors of our milk?
Science has been studying human milk for the past decades. We currently know that it is a living substance. Some people refer to it as the "white blood," and this is because of the diversity of its components that frequently change according to the time of the day, the baby's age, and baby and mother's health condition.
Many of these components play a role in immunity. We know that babies are born with an immature immune system -and by that, I mean a lack of exposure to the outside environment-, and breast milk supplements it and stimulates its development.
Besides the nutritional factors -fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals- that promote growth and optimal function of the organs and tissues, human milk has a variety of individuals that do their part in the defense and protection system.
Breast milk contains antibodies -also called immunoglobulins- that respond to specific antigens coming from the environment. Lactoferrin is also present, a powerful iron-binding protein that prevents pathogens such as Escherichia coli and Candida albicans from obtaining the iron they need to survive.
We can also find white cells, in the forms of phagocytes and lymphocytes, that work, some of them by engulfing and absorbing pathogens, and others by destroying their cell walls.
Other immune factors include Cytokines, Bifidus factor, Prostaglandins, Oligosaccharides, enzymes, hormones, growth factors, and many more.
They continue to do their part in this complex but fascinating gear that makes breast milk the only substance that has all the necessary nutrients to sustain human life for the first six months, at least.
But it doesn't stop here.
Many recent studies have found that immunity protection does not come only from breast milk; it is the act of breastfeeding that makes this first line of defense optimal.
But how? When a mother breastfeeds, an exchange of beneficial bacteria occurs through skin touch and saliva, in addition to the milk release itself. That process of retrograde flow contributes to the colonization of the baby's microbiome, which strengthens his immune system. That exchange of fluids involves pathogens that activate the mother's antibodies that eventually go back to the baby through her milk.
Everything I just said explains how milk can change to meet the needs of a sick baby, and provide him protection from viruses and harmful bacteria from the outside.
The first time I heard this, it blew my mind. Since then, I've been reading everything I can about it, and I can only say it is fascinating, but at the same time, I realize how Science is still in diapers. There's so much to discover. There's so much to learn about this incredible relationship between mother and baby. A relationship that not only involves emotional elements, but a set of chemical reactions in our bodies that make us what we truly are.