Updated: July 21, 2021
Throughout the pandemic, the Milk Bank has continued to have a large volume of human donor milk. At the discretion of your health care team, eligibility to receive donor milk, where deemed beneficial, can extend to all NICU infants for the first month of age.
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly evolving as research is ongoing and is being published at record speed. The information below is what we now know.
New COVID-19 vaccine guidance:
For milk bank donors who receive a vaccination for COVID-19, there is no deferral period therefore it is safe to donate your milk following a vaccination with the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines. If new vaccines are introduced, deferral periods may be required according to the vaccine that you receive. It is important for you to note the day of your vaccine and which vaccine you received. Please continue to express and store your milk and contact the milk bank for further advice once you have been vaccinated.
Here is a resource to help guide your decision-making from the Provincial Council on Maternal and Child Health. “I am pregnant. Should I get the COVID-19 Vaccine?” Infographic.
For the mother who is exposed to COVID-19 or who is COVID-19 positive:
Mother’s milk contains an abundance of antibodies and other immune factors to protect her baby from harmful bacteria and viruses. In rare cases, when a mother is positive for COVID-19, the virus may appear in her milk. As indicated in this article, current recommendations are for mothers who have COVID-19 to wear a mask and wash their hands well, but to continue to breastfeed their babies! Your antibodies are an important form of protection from COVID-19. If you are unable to breastfeed, then pumping your milk to give to your baby is the next best option for infant feeding.
For donors to the milk bank who are exposed to COVID-19 or who are COVID-19 positive:
For mothers who have abundant milk supply and who are eligible to be milk donors, we encourage you to consider milk donation once you and your household have recovered from this illness. Recent research has shown that pasteurization, done at an authorized milk bank, kills viruses in the donated milk making it safe for the sick or preterm infants at hospitals supplied by the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank.
Research co-authored by Dr. Sharon Unger, Medical Director of the Milk Bank has been published recently to better understand COVID-19’s impact on breast milk. This section will be updated as new research is published.
This review of all publications reporting on viral studies following pasteurization of human milk or in other media (such as other types of milk or plasma) found that Holder pasteurization, the parameters use in the milk bank, is very effective at viral killing.
In the follow up paper published in CMAJ, the researchers deliberately spiked donor milk samples from the milk bank with SARS-CoV-2. Human milk alone begins to kill the virus, but that with pasteurization, the virus was completely eliminated.
In Case You Missed It
Dr. Sharon Unger, Medical Director of the Milk Bank, was recently featured in a Toronto Star article on COVID-19 antibodies in human milk. Read the full article and learn more about the ongoing research into how human milk can provide protection against COVID-19 in newborns.