Coronavirus: Can SARS-CoV-2 be transmitted through breast milk?

Coronavirus: Can SARS-CoV-2 be transmitted through breast milk?

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New coronavirus detected in breast milk for the first time

Almost every day, new knowledge about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is being gained. A current study now provides information on another possible route of transmission: The researchers have detected RNA from the virus in breast milk.

So far, much is still unclear about the transmission paths of the new corona virus, and there are corresponding uncertainties in the necessary safety precautions. In the case of infected mothers, for example, the question arises whether the child can also be infected through breast milk. Virologists from the Ulm University Hospital have now been able to detect RNA of the virus in breast milk for the first time. Their results were published in the specialist magazine "The Lancet".

Breast milk examined for coronavirus

The research team led by Professor Jan Münch and Rüdiger Groß from Ulm University Medicine, together with Karin Steinhart from the Heidenheim health department, examined the breast milk of two women who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 after delivery. "The detection of a possible viral infection and the determination of the viral load was carried out at various times after the positive corona test results of the mothers," reports the University of Ulm.

Women shared a room

According to the university hospital, both women shared a room with the newborn after delivery and after one of the women developed symptoms of illness, she was isolated with her newborn and a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 was carried out. In the neighbor's house, typical symptoms of COVID-19 (disease caused by SRAS-CoV-2) such as cough, mild fever and a loss of her sense of smell and taste only appeared after she was discharged. Thereupon this woman was also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Four successive positive tests

"While there was no evidence of the new coronavirus in the breast milk samples of the woman who was first ill, the SARS-CoV-2 result in the milk samples of the second mother was positive four times in a row"; reports the research team. With the method of quantitative real-time PCR (RT-qPCR) not only the detection of an infection, but also a determination of the viral load was possible. This was about 100,000 viral genome copies per milliliter of breast milk.

Baby also infected

It was not possible to clarify clearly whether the baby, who was also infected, was infected through breast milk or another possible transmission route. However, the woman had been wearing oral nose and throat protection and disinfected her hands and breasts at the start of symptoms when dealing with the infant, reports the research team. In addition, she regularly sterilized the breast pump used and other breastfeeding utensils. However, it remains unclear whether the baby was actually infected while breastfeeding.

Which transmission paths are considered?

So far it is known that the new coronavirus is mainly transmitted through human droplet infections. But the question arises as to which other transmission paths are still possible. For example, the first study has already shown that the coronavirus can also be transmitted with the stool. The new study now shows that SARS-CoV-2 can also be detected in breast milk in breastfeeding women with acute infection.

However, it remains unclear how often this is the case, whether the viruses in milk are also infectious and can be transmitted to infants through breastfeeding, ”summarizes Professor Jan Münch. According to the university hospital, no virus was detectable in breast milk after 14 days in the two women examined and the mother and child recovered from COVID-19. (fp)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


  • Rüdiger Groß, Carina Conzelmann, Janis A. Müller, Steffen Stenger, Karin Steinhart, Frank Kirchhoff, et al .: Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in human breastmilk; in: The Lancet (published May 21, 2020),
  • Ulm University: Possible transmission path of SARS-CoV-2? New coronavirus detected in breast milk for the first time (published May 22, 2020),
  • E. Susan Amirian: Potential fecal transmission of SARS-CoV-2: Current evidence and implications for public health; in: International Journal of Infectious Diseases (Published Apr 23, 2020), International Journal of Infectious Diseases

Video: Coronavirus: Breastfeeding (February 2023).