Human milk from previously covid-19-infected mothers: The effect of pasteurization on specific antibodies and neutralization capacity

Britt J. van Keulen, Michelle Romijn, Albert Bondt, Kelly A. Dingess, Eva Kontopodi, Karlijn van der Straten, Maurits A. Den Boer, Judith A. Burger, Meliawati Poniman, Berend J. Bosch, Philip J.M. Brouwer, Christianne J.M. de Groot, Max Hoek, Wentao Li, Dasja Pajkrt, Rogier W. Sanders, Anne Schoonderwoerd, Sem Tamara, Rian A.H. Timmermans, Gestur VidarssonKoert J. Stittelaar, Theo T. Rispens, Kasper A. Hettinga, Marit J. van Gils, Albert J.R. Heck, Johannes B. van Goudoever*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Since the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), many put their hopes in the rapid availability of effective immunizations. Human milk, containing antibodies against syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), may serve as means of protection through passive immunization. We aimed to determine the presence and pseudovirus neutralization capacity of SARS-CoV-2 specific IgA in human milk of mothers who recovered from COVID-19, and the effect of pasteurization on these antibodies. Methods: This prospective case control study included lactating mothers, recovered from (suspected) COVID-19 and healthy controls. Human milk and serum samples were collected. To assess the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies we used multiple complementary assays, namely ELISA with the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (specific for IgA and IgG), receptor binding domain (RBD) and nucleocapsid (N) protein for IgG in serum, and bridging ELISA with the SARS-CoV-2 RBD and N protein for specific Ig (IgG, IgM and IgA in human milk and serum). To assess the effect of pasteurization, human milk was exposed to Holder (HoP) and High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP). Results: Human milk contained abundant SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in 83% of the proven cases and in 67% of the suspected cases. Unpasteurized milk with and without these antibodies was found to be capable of neutralizing a pseudovirus of SARS-CoV-2 in (97% and 85% of the samples respectively). After pasteurization, total IgA antibody levels were affected by HoP, while SARS-CoV-2 specific antibody levels were affected by HPP. Pseudovirus neutralizing capacity of the human milk samples was only retained with the HPP approach. No correlation was observed between milk antibody levels and neutralization capacity. Conclusions: Human milk from recovered COVID-19-infected mothers contains SARS-CoV-2 specific antibodies which maintained neutralization capacity after HPP. All together this may represent a safe and effective immunization strategy after HPP.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1645
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2021


  • Breastfeeding
  • COVID-19
  • Immunoglobulins
  • Pasteurization


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