SARS-CoV-2 detected in breast milk

The CRC1279 congratulates Prof. Dr. Jan Münch and his team at the Institute of Molecular Virology Ulm on the first publication of the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in human breast milk 1.

In collaboration with Karin Steinhart at the local health authorities and supported by CRC 1279, Prof. Münch and his team investigated two women and their newborns, which shared a hospital room after birth. Although one woman and her newborn were immediately isolated after the mother showed first COVID-19 symptoms, her roommate developed symptoms soon afterwards as well. Both women and their newborns were eventually tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Prof. Münch’s team, Rüdiger Groß, Carina Conzelmann and Dr. Janis Müller, analysed breast milk of both women for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA using quantitative PCR. The tests on the breast milk of the initially symptomatic mother were negative. However, viral RNA was detected in four sequential milk samples obtained from her roommate. The detection of viral RNA coincided with mild COVID-19 symptoms of the mother and the first SARS-CoV-2 positive diagnostic test of her newborn. At that time, the mother was wearing a mask when interacting with her newborn, thoroughly disinfecting both hands and breast when breastfeeding and regularly sterilizing any used utensils. 14 days post-partum, viral RNA became undetectable in the woman’s breast milk. Both mothers and their newborns recovered from COVID-19.

These results prove that SARS-CoV-2 can be detected in breast milk during acute phase of infection. However, it remains unclear whether the newborn became infected through breast feeding or another route.

The World Health Organization does currently not advise SARS-CoV-2 infected mothers to avoid or stop breast feeding. However, further studies are needed to clarify if SARS-CoV-2 is infectious in breast milk and if it can be transmitted through breast feeding. The results of these studies will show whether the current recommendations should be revised.

Since these recommendations are of urgent interests for many currently breastfeeding and future mothers worldwide, the publication received extensive attention of media in Germany, Europe and internationally. Amongst others, reports were issued in renowned German news reports such as ‘ZDF’, ‘BR’, ‘Die Zeit’, ‘Stern’ and ‘Die Welt’ as well as multiple regional newspapers. The article was also reported internationally e.g. by the ‘ORF’ in Austria as well as ‘Newsweek’ in the US.


1 Rüdiger Groß, Carina Conzelmann, Janis A. Müller, Steffen Stenger, Karin Steinhart, Frank Kirchhoff, Jan Münch. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in Human Breast Milk. The Lancet.