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Health Team

Could COVID antibodies in breast milk help protect babies?

Posted February 2, 2021 5:58 p.m. EST
Updated February 3, 2021 2:38 p.m. EST

— When Michelle Sakala got pregnant last year, the pandemic had not arrived. As a nurse at Moore Regional Hospital and wife of an Army major who gets deployed, she began to panic when the virus started to spread.

"I think the fear of our kids not having their mother or parent ... you know, my husband's gone a lot. He serves, and he wants to serve, and that's what his job is, but our kids need a full-time parent," Sakala explained.

Eight weeks after delivering baby Monroe, Sakala made a big decision, spurred by the loss of a loved one.

"My husband's uncle contracted COVID in December and passed away the week that I decide to get the vaccine," Sakala said. "I think when that ripple effect begins to get closer and closer and closer to you you begin to feel it."

Sakala, who is breastfeeding, got the Pfizer vaccine at work, even though the vaccines were not specifically tested in pregnant and lactating women. She is now enrolled in a COVID vaccine breast milk study at the University of Massachusetts. Researchers are trying to determine if COVID antibodies are present in breast milk and may help protect the breastfed baby. Sakala collects breast milk in containers and sends samples of her baby's stool to UMass for analysis.

"I needed to say, 'hey I did it. I did it. I did it for me. I did it for you. I did it for my family. I did it for trying to get a sense of normal back.'"

Sakala received her second dose of the COVID vaccine 20 days ago. She says she had some mild side effects but it didn't stop her from her daily routine.

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